England's only credible choice as goalkeeper has been in supreme form for his club but will not be as busy on Friday
Joe Hart is not expected to have one of his busier nights against San Marino. It is only just over a week since the Manchester City goalkeeper confessed to enjoying the workout Borussia Dortmund gave him in the Champions League – "It was almost like being down at the park and being peppered by your mates, but I like making saves" – yet on Friday night's supposedly bigger international stage he is prepared to spend much of his time at Wembley as a spectator.
"I want us to win 10-0 and me not to touch the ball," Hart said. "If they are not coming near the penalty area I am not going to stand there and sulk."
Hart may not even play the whole of Friday's game if Roy Hodgson decides to give John Ruddy some much needed match time. Although rotating goalkeepers is generally a policy best left for friendlies, many a friendly will prove more testing than a home game against the bottom-ranked nation in Europe. Hodgson's main priority will be to ensure Hart is fit and available for the trip to Poland on Tuesday, when his shot-stopping ability is much more likely to be needed.
Within a short space of time, with Robert Green falling out of favour even at Queens Park Rangers and Ben Foster still in self-imposed retirement, Hart has come to the fore as not only the best goalkeeper in England but just about the only credible candidate for the national team. That is reassuring in one sense, in that some degree of defensive stability is desirable behind a back line that keeps changing for reasons that Hodgson must find almost as exasperating as did Fabio Capello, yet there is an obvious danger should Hart become injured or suffer a sudden loss of form.
Most leading football nations have two or three outstanding goalkeepers - Spain are so well off in the position that performers as capable as Pepe Reina and Víctor Valdés have long been resigned to bit-part appearances behind Iker Casillas – but, as the 1966 veteran Gordon Banks has just pointed out, England just have Hart and then a long way down.
"Joe is the best English goalkeeper by a mile, but what concerns me is that there is nobody challenging him for that position," Banks said. "He is out on his own as first choice and it is exactly the same situation at Manchester City – he is not even being pushed by his club."
What Banks says is true, with Costel Pantilimon and Richard Wright as only notional goalkeeping back-up, City stand to suffer even more than England should Hart be forced to miss a few games, though when the club brought in the latter, a former England hope himself, in the last few days of the transfer window it seemed to be a tacit admission that there was not a lot of promise or talent around.
"There are fewer and fewer players to pick from," Banks said. "We have got to find a method of bringing young goalkeepers through because we currently have no strength in depth whatsoever. Everyone needs to be challenged, and there always used to be enough good goalkeepers in England to keep you on your toes. You couldn't have a bad game and say to yourself that you'd still have to be in the squad because there is nobody else. Joe has a great chance of becoming the best in the world but I don't want him to get too overconfident where he doesn't have to worry about his place."