Hart starts as City go through to Champions League group stage

Joe Hart

Joe Hart was hailed by supporters as Manchester City went through the motions to claim their place in the Champions League group stage at Steaua Bucharest’s expense.

Joe Hart
Joe Hart

Fabian Delph scored the only goal of a drab game as City claimed a 1-0 win in their playoff at the Etihad Stadium to progress 6-0 on aggregate.

At times the occasion seemed more about England goalkeeper Hart, who was recalled by manager Pep Guardiola after sitting on the bench for the first three games of season.

Hart’s future at City remains uncertain with the club poised to complete the signing of Chile international Claudio Bravo from Barcelona this week.

Fans made clear their feelings on the sudden demotion of the two-time title-winner throughout but it remains to be seen whether Hart still has a part to play in the Guardiola era.

If it does prove a farewell appearance, the 29-year-old was at least given a good send-off, with numerous chants, ovations and a banner underlining fans’ affections. He gave all sides of the ground the thumbs-up as he left the field.

With the tie as good as won, Hart’s recall was one of a number of changes by Guardiola, who also brought back Yaya Toure.

Spanish right-back Pablo Maffeo, 19, earned a debut while Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Raheem Sterling and Nicolas Otamendi were all rested.

City rarely moved out of first gear and Steaua, who made six changes themselves, seemed uninterested. Coach Laurentiu Reghecampf had said he was resigned to defeat in the tie on the eve of the match and his indifference was reflected in the visitors’ performance.

City had the best of the few chances that were created in the first half with Aleksandar Kolarov teeing up Kelechi Iheanacho, Nolito meeting a Jesus Navas cross with an acrobatic effort and Toure hitting the target. All three efforts were comfortably saved by goalkeeper Valentin Cojocaru.

City’s first incisive move came early in the second half when Toure slipped Delph in on goal and Cojocaru blocked. Delph made no mistake as he opened the scoring moments later by rising to meet a cross delicately chipped into the area by Navas with a powerful header.

Guardiola then decided it was time to introduce more youngsters to the fray as two more teenage defenders in Tosin Adarabioyo and Angelino were sent on.

The crowd again turned their attention to Hart, running through a whole songsheet of chants dedicated to the keeper.

He underlined his enduring quality in a brief flurry of activity too. First he raced out of the area – showing footwork that might have caught Guardiola’s eye — to clear from Alexandru Tudorie’s feet. He then tipped over a free-kick from Nicolae Stanciu and blocked from Tudorie.

Some bad news for City came late on as Iheanacho pulled up injured chasing the ball. Steaua defender Bogdan Mitrea initially seemed very concerned for his well-being and urged medical staff to hurry and, although the situation may not have been as urgent as that suggested, Iheanacho still left on a stretcher.

Fernandinho replaced him and guided City through the closing minutes.

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