LONDON // Shay Given is certain to demand a heart-to-heart with Roberto Mancini when he reports for training tomorrow after Joe Hart vindicated the Manchester City manager's decision to pick him ahead of the veteran Irish goalkeeper. Hart produced a string of stunning saves at White Hart Lane as City held out for a draw against Tottenham Hotspur. It was a performance akin to a striker hitting a hat-trick.
Mancini would not admit it afterwards, but Hart's immense display represented a statement of intent that he, rather than Given, is the club's first-choice goalkeeper. At 34, Given, who joined City 18 months ago, will not want to waste away on the bench when he knows Arsenal, who lost out when he left Newcastle United for Eastlands, will roll out the red carpet for him. It is understood the Gunners, who also have an interest in Fulham's Mark Schwarzer, are ready to make a formal bid for Given this week.
Ideally, City will want to keep both top-class keepers as they seeks to break the cartel of Premier League title winners, but even Hart admitted he suspected Given would find it hard to be persuaded to stay. Hart said: "Just because I played today I don't consider myself as the No 1 and it's great for the club to have two keepers battling it out. But Shay is one of the top keepers around. His name is known around the world."
Mancini tried to play down the situation, saying: "It's good for the team that we have two great goalkeepers." It is a situation that Mancini, having opted for the less experienced Hart, 23, who spent last season on loan at Birmingham City, must now confront. Any nerves Hart might have had at having to prove himself yesterday must have disappeared after 11 minutes when he made a stunning reflex save to beat away a Jermain Defoe snapshot on the turn.
Five minutes later, Hart - who will now surely become England's first-choice keeper after starting against Hungary on Wednesday - produced another stunning stop to keep out Tom Huddlestone's 20-yard volley. He was beaten in the 30th minute when Gareth Bale flashed a low shot across the face of the goal, but the ball bounced back off a post and Hart was alert enough to bounce up and, with the help of Vincent Kompany, keep out Aaron Lennon's follow up.
It was an exhilarating first-half display by Tottenham, who last season pipped City to fourth place in the Premier League and on this evidence should overcome Young Boys of Berne this week and make sure their Champions League play-off tie is done and dusted after the first leg in Switzerland this Tuesday. Inspired by Hart, though, it was to City's credit that they dug in and displayed the spirit and graft not to be overcome by Tottenham's invention and exuberance.
As the second half wore on, both teams tired, but when Roman Pavlyuchenko, the Spurs substitute, twice unloaded fierce drives from distance that Hart's safe hands kept at bay. Tottenham's display suggested that they can be a force again this season. As expected City, with so many new players, need time to gel - Mancini suggests at least three weeks. And in many ways Mancini must have been delighted. He has ditched the raffish hair style and the wearing of a retro scarf to cut a less flamboyant figure on the touchline.
In the new image of their manager, City suggested at Tottenham yesterday they have the work ethic to be serious title contenders. They certainly look to have the Hart. firstname.lastname@example.org