England have never won a knock-out stage tournament game without a player from Newcastle upon-Tyne and Geordieland in its ranks for 50 years so its time to jettison Joe Hart and firm up the last line of defence with Fraser Forster.
Imagine Euro 96 without Alan Shearer, Italia 90 without Paul Gascoigne, Mexico 86 without Peter Beardsley or, heaven forbid, the World Cup in 1966 without the brothers Charlton. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
Joe Hart’s most recent clanger for England almost put paid to The Three Lions’ attempt to win Euro 2016 before it got started and its time to look north for the solution.
An innocuous-looking free-kick from Gareth Bale should have been meat and drink to England’s no. 1 yet it managed to squirm under the Man City goalkeeper who is not the rock between the sticks he once was.
Once an unshakeable, confident figure at the back, Hart is now as dodgy as the Head and Shoulders adverts he fronts after an unusually mistake-ridden season for both club and country which has clearly knocked his confidence.
Spills and soft goals conceded for Manchester City contributed to the billionaire club never being in the title race or serious contenders in the Champions League despite an impressive Semi-Final berth.
In England’s friendly at The Etihad, a stadium where he should be at home and at his commanding best in, Hart fluffed his lines sowing serious doubts about whether he ranks with top national keepers like Peter Shilton and David Seaman.
A third error in four international games could put paid to England’s Euro 2016 hopes.
Roy Hodgson cannot carry passengers in tournament football, as he has quickly discovered with the instant impact of Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge when they replaced the ineffective Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane at half-time on Thursday.
And the England boss must continue to demonstrate a previously latent ruthless streak and axe Joe Hart in his and the nation’s interests.
Enter stage left Fraser Forster.
The softly spoken 28 year-old Geordie giant of a goalkeeper has the presence and stature to step into Hart’s shoes and make the crucial difference for his country, instilling confidence where there was fragility.
Much like the famed Wall in Game of Thrones, the 6ft 7in Southampton keeper can repel all attacks from Slovakia and Europe as he demonstrated in going 615 minutes before conceding a goal after being injured for 9 months.
It was against Arsenal that he truly hit the heights and had managers and pundits alike purring with his boss Ronald Koeman saying his performance was ‘magic’ and hinting he should be England’s no. 1.
“Joe Hart is a very experienced, good goalkeeper, but if Fraser is doing his job like Tuesday then a lot of credit,” said Koeman. “Then he needs a chance but that’s not up to me.”
Intriguingly, Dave Watson, England’s goalkeeper coach, also has the same role at Southampton, and Forster is in Hodgson’s confidence:
“He [Hodgson] was always checking up on me and seeing how I was getting on, he was always there for me if I needed to speak to him,” said Forster.
Injury restricted Forster to just 18 Premier League appearances last season meaning he is fit and fresh at the right time, unlike Hart whose reflexes and concentration might be affected by 56 games and counting this season.
Forster has been linked with a move to Everton since Koeman left Southampton and took over the hot seat at Goodison Park and home-town club Newcastle United, who chose Tim Krul over the Geordie’s services once but who may leave.
Another England international once swopped Southampton and the top flight for a second division promotion push – Kevin Keegan – and the rest is history. Forster could become the rock upon which the Rafalution is based.
By kick-starting his return from injury in January with six consecutive clean sheets including away at Old Trafford and The Emirates against Man United and Arsenal, Forster will not be phased by any Euros pressure if he is thrown into the cauldron.
England’s defence has been criticised going into the tournament as the side’s major weakness yet maybe this stems from the man between the sticks and the time could be ripe for a change of Hart at the back.
Cometh the hour, cometh a giant of a man born for the big stage.
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