x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Heroic Hart holds fort

The England goalkeeper almost single-handedly earned his Birmingham side a third-round replay with Championship team Nottingham Forest.

The Birmingham manager Alex McLeish has called on Fabio Capello to take Joe Hart to the 2010 Fifa World Cup after the England goalkeeper almost single-handedly earned his side a third-round replay with Championship team Nottingham Forest yesterday. The on-loan Manchester City stopper made a string of superb saves at the City Ground as this game somehow ended goalless, and won his battle with Forest forward Robert Earnshaw hands down.

Yet the 22-year-old was not required when Earnshaw ballooned his second-half penalty over the bar as neither side managed to land a decisive blow. And McLeish lauded Hart for his display, which ensured the sides will meet again at St Andrew's on January 12 for the right to progress to the fourth round. "Joe has made some really good saves, as has Lee Camp for Forest," said the Scot. "They both played their part, and maybe Camp can be number two to Joe for England.

"Since Joe has been here his all-round game has really improved as he wants to improve, he wants to be the best that he can be and when you have a willing student who is receptive to ideas it really helps. "Really, we're thankful to have got away with it [the draw]. We're still in the FA Cup, and that's the main thing." But while McLeish was more than happy with a replay, his Forest counterpart, Billy Davies, admitted that he feared his promotion-chasing side had missed their chance.

"There is no doubt in my mind that there should only be one winner today, and Alex McLeish will be very grateful to be walking away from here with a draw they didn't deserve," he said. "We dominated, but Joe Hart made some great saves and there is no doubt the penalty was the turning point - Earnshaw's run-up was far too casual - but I was delighted with the performance we put in against an excellent side."

In many ways, it could hardly be a surprise that this game ended as a draw. Dubbed "The Unbeatables versus The Invincibles", Forest had risen to third in the Championship on the back of their run of 16 games without defeat, and Birmingham's seven wins and four draws in their last 11 Premier League matches was their best sequence of results since the year 1908. And those records seemed fully justified in a first-half where defences were almost completely on top, apart from the moment in first-half injury-time where the centre-back Luke Chambers headed against the bar for the hosts.

Yet Forest had not really tested Hart - although that all changed seven minutes into the second-half after Chris Cohen burst through the middle of the Birmingham rearguard. From the edge of the box, it had appeared that he had to give Forest the lead, but Hart plunged low to his right to claw the ball away. However, Hart was not called upon as Earnshaw fluffed his lines from the spot on 62 minutes.

Gregory Vignal was the man caught out, clipping Paul Anderson's heels to give Earnshaw the perfect opportunity to add to the 15 FA Cup goals he has scored in his career - but then the former Cardiff and West Brom man fired high, wide and not very handsome. While Earnshaw was clearly culpable then, he was determined to make immediate amends and was only denied by more brilliance from Hart. The Welshman seemed certain to score when Anderson put him clean through, and his bending effort was destined for the far corner until Hart somehow got down to tip it round a post.

Those chances finally sparked Birmingham into life, with Phillips smashing a drive against the post from 30 yards, but in truth both sides appeared to have run out of ideas long before the final whistle. And that is likely to suit Birmingham far more than Forest, who must fear they have missed their chance to spring a famous FA Cup shock. Man of the match: Joe Hart (Birmingham) @Email:sports@thenational.ae