Brum boss hails Hart progress

Birmingham manager Alex McLeish believes keeper Joe Hart is doing

his England World Cup chances no harm with his “terrific” form this

season.

Hart joined Birmingham on loan from Manchester City in the

summer and after a few early mistakes has played an integral role

in his side’s current 10-match unbeaten run.

The former Shrewsbury youngster was a worthy man of the match

in Boxing Day’s goalless draw at home to league leaders Chelsea and

Scot McLeish believes the stopper is well worth consideration for

the England number one jersey.

Asked whether his first target in the January transfer window

is the permanent signature of Hart, McLeish said: “If I could and

if it was a good deal, then yes.

“I think Joe has come on a ton. We started the season having

spoken about one or two things and he’s improved out of sight and

I’m pleased for him. He’s a conscientious big guy and his own worst

critic.

“He studies everything and takes everything on the chin from

the goalkeeping coach Dave Watson to try to improve.

“He’s a guy who improves and wants to get better and better

and his form has been terrific.

“I know the England coaches think a lot of him, and I think

they will think even more of him now with his Birmingham

performances.”

Hart should be fit for Monday’s clash at Stoke despite

suffering a head injury against Chelsea following a challenge with

Didier Drogba.

“It was a ball which was there to be won and the two were

coming at boot level,” said McLeish. “It is tough for goalies

because they have got to dive at players’ feet sometimes and you’ve

got the added danger of studs hitting your head.

“Look what happened to big Petr Cech a couple of years ago.

Joe is brave, he took charge of the situation. He’ll be sore for a

couple of days but he’ll be fine.”

Birmingham’s revered defence is built around centre-half

pairing Roger Johnson and Scott Dann as much as Hart, and McLeish

is similarly delighted with his ‘old school’ duo.

“Dann and Johnson in particular just love heading balls and

making tackles, they are real throwbacks,” he said. “That was part

of the reason I bought them and I did some diligence on them.

Speaking to people who had worked with them, coaches whom I trust

in the game, and getting homework done like that is very

beneficial.

“I knew when I spoke to certain people about Scott and Roger

that I had to go for them.”

While Premier League leaders Chelsea enjoyed the better

chances at St Andrew’s it was Birmingham who had the ball in the

net in the first half, Christian Benitez poking it over the line

and apparently being played onside by an injured Drogba only to see

the flag raised against him.

McLeish was philosophical about the decision afterwards and

keen to turn his attention to the trip to the Britannia Stadium.

The City boss will give a fitness tests to midfielders

Sebastian Larsson and Lee Bowyer after they suffered knocks while

defenders Johnson and Liam Ridgewell seemed to suffer no

ill-effects after returning against Carlo Ancelotti’s side.