Hart enjoys ‘special night’ but Pep stands by decision

Date published: Thursday 25th August 2016 8:25

Joe Hart made sure he enjoyed the adulation of Manchester City’s fans after potentially making his final appearance for the club.

But the England goalkeeper gave little away about his future after “a special night” at the Etihad Stadium in which City eased past Steaua Bucharest into the Champions League group stage.

With City leading 5-0 on aggregate after the first leg of the play-off tie, Hart was recalled by manager Pep Guardiola for the 1-0 win after three games on the bench.

Fans made clear their appreciation of the 29-year-old two-time title-winner throughout but, with the club poised to complete the signing of Claudio Bravo from Barcelona, it could easily have been a farewell.

Bravo could be in place before Sunday’s Premier League clash against West Ham and Hart has been linked with a move away before next week’s transfer deadline.

Alluding to his predicament, Hart told BT Sport: “It’s a situation. We’ve got a top manager that the club’s wanted for a long, long time and he’s going to have his opinion on things.

“Outside of the charade and all the rubbish that is talked we are dealing with it like men and we are going to come up with a solution.”

Asked about whether he might be leaving, he said: “That’s not for me to say. It is what it is.”

Fans chanted their backing for Hart on numerous occasions, gave him an ovation midway through the second half and also unfurled a banner paying tribute to the long-serving keeper.

Hart said: “That was a really special night for me. This is a special place for me, there’s never been any secret made of that. I really appreciate the people at Manchester City and it turns out they appreciate me.”

Guardiola has made his preference for a ball-playing goalkeeper clear, and when Hart was told he completed 100 per cent of his passes, he responded: “Well pigs do fly, don’t they?”

The Spaniard, meanwhile, was pleased with the stopper’s performance but defended his right to make decisions.

“Joe is still a player of us. I am so happy with what he did today,” Guardiola said.

“I know he is a legend for this club. I know part of what the club has become – one of the reasons is Joe. He helped to make this team one step above.

“But I am here to take decisions. I make a lot of mistakes – my decisions as a coach are sometimes good, sometimes bad – but I take decisions. I can’t deny what I feel.”

Guardiola was not taxed by the game itself. City were hardly extended by a poor Steaua team and won with a 56th-minute header from Fabian Delph. Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Nicolas Otamendi were all rested.

Guardiola said: “We are ready for the Champions League. These players and club deserve it.

“It was not easy with 10 players behind the ball but in the second half we adjusted and attacked much better. The spirit was amazing. Now is a day to celebrate our qualification for the Champions League.”

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