England v Slovakia: Joe Hart under the microscope after Wales error

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Should Hart keep his England place?

Joe Hart is England's clear first-choice goalkeeper - yet he goes into his country's crucial Euro 2016 game against Slovakia in Saint-Etienne on Monday under the microscope.

Hart has faced heavy criticism for the goal he conceded against Wales last Thursday. England may have won 2-1 to go top of Group B with one game to play, yet there has been plenty of focus on the way he allowed Gareth Bale's 30-yard free-kick to squirm past him in the first half.

Even fellow members of the goalkeeping fraternity have joined in; retired Germany internationals Jens Lehmann and Oliver Kahn have been among the critics, as has former Manchester United number one Peter Schmeichel.

So is Hart under pressure to up his game? And when will his place come under serious threat?

Hart under the spotlight

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Gareth Bale scores from a free-kick

Euro 2016 is the third consecutive major tournament at which the Manchester City goalkeeper has been England's undisputed first choice.

His error against Wales was not a moment he will look back on with any pride. Bale's routine free-kick hardly moved in the air, and Hart got both hands to the ball. It still ended up in his net.

The manner in which that goal was conceded is of concern for an England side whose weak link is their defence. That weakness could be exacerbated if Hart, rightly regarded as one of the mainstays of the team, gets the jitters.

Joe Hart
Hart is a passionate figure in an England shirt - as he showed against Uruguay at the 2014 World Cup

In that defence, there is a lingering suspicion the central partnership of Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill will prove vulnerable to opposition of the highest quality.

Kyle Walker has been a real success so far at right-back but it is likely the deeper England go into the tournament, the greater the examination both he and left-back Danny Rose will face.

This is why they need Hart composed, focused and reliable, and not making the sort of mistake he did against Wales.

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Highlights: England 2-1 Wales

Hart was fired up on Thursday, and that is something we have seen before. Is this desire to deliver on the big occasion getting the better of him?

I noticed it in Sao Paulo in June 2014, when England were eliminated from the World Cup as they lost 2-1 to Uruguay. Before kick-off, I saw the goalkeeper's fist-pumping as he tried to rally the fans. To me, it showed someone almost over-hyped; the result was a frenetic performance, particularly early on in the match.

Before kick-off against Wales in Lens on Thursday, he could be seen swearing loudly in front of the television cameras to fire up his team-mates in the tunnel. In front of him, his captain Wayne Rooney was focused and silent.

The goalkeeper was in good voice as he belted out the national anthem, but looked tense. Perhaps that nervous tension betrayed him with such a stiff and fumbling approach to Bale's free-kick, as Wales took a half-time lead.

It was little wonder Hart sprinted the length of the pitch at Stade Bollaert-Delelis to celebrate Daniel Sturridge's injury-time winner. The keeper would have carried a huge share of the responsibility had England not won.

Harry Kane, Joe Hart and Wayne Rooney
Joe Hart won his 61st England cap when they faced Wales in Lens on Thursday

Who are England's alternatives?

Barring a calamity, Hart's place is safe. For one thing, Hodgson has no intention of dropping a player he trusts. For another, the alternative options have no experience of playing at this elite level.

Fraser Forster and Tom Heaton are fine goalkeepers, but it is impossible to see how they would get an opportunity here in France unless Hart was injured.

Tom Heaton and Fraser Forster
Neither Tom Heaton nor Fraser Forster has made a competitive appearance for England

Forster, 28, has made six appearances in friendlies, giving him a total of 418 minutes of senior international action. Compare that with the vast experience of Hart, who has played for 5,235 minutes in winning 61 caps. Hart has kept 27 clean sheets - and conceded 42 goals - for his country; Forster has yet to deliver his first England shutout.

Forster's club season ended on a positive note, after he returned in January following almost 10 months out with a knee injury. He made 18 Premier League appearances for Southampton as they finished sixth to qualify for the Europa League.

During that run, he set a club record of 708 minutes - just short of 12 hours - without conceding a goal, a sequence that included six successive clean sheets.

Heaton, 30, helped Burnley win the Championship title but has only three minutes of England experience as a late substitute in the 2-1 win against Australia at the Stadium of Light on 29 May.

He is the safety net, claiming the place left vacant when Stoke City's Jack Butland broke his ankle playing for England in March.

Hart has played for England at the big tournaments, and for Manchester City in domestic and European matches of huge significance. In terms of experience, he remains well ahead of Forster and Heaton.

Is Hart's technique at fault?

Hart's error against Wales in Lens brought first astonishment, then heavy criticism. Should he have even erected a wall? And what about his technique in attempting to keep the ball out?

Former Arsenal goalkeeper Lehmann was among those who were unimpressed. He told BBC Radio 5 live: "I think Joe was nervous. He didn't need a three-man wall. It would have given him a better sight of the free-kick without it.

"Then he used the wrong technique. I think he used his fists, not his palm. It seems to me his hands aren't flexible enough to deal with the balls. I've recognised that in the Premier League at times.

"On top of that, he didn't attack the ball. Because of this, his body language was too defensive."

Joe Hart
Gareth Bale has scored from free-kicks in both of Wales' games at Euro 2016

Lehmann added: "With a free-kick from that distance, you would never put up a wall in training. In an important game, he does it.

"That tells me something about the mental state he's in. He's scared - and when you're scared, mistakes like that happen."

Kahn, who played in the Germany side that lost to Brazil in the 2002 World Cup final, also questioned Hart's decision to put up a wall.

"I have no clue why Joe Hart wanted a wall for that free-kick," said Kahn. "There's no way Bale scores without a wall there."

And former Manchester United keeper Schmeichel tweeted: "Re: Bale goal. Look at the wall. That's the biggest mistake by Hart. Don't put one up.

"If he doesn't, he can start in the middle of the goal, so even if the ball is all over the place, he can move quicker. Also the wall becomes a target only 10 yards away. It gives a better aim for Bale.

"He made an error of judgement. He should not have put the wall up and short-sighted himself."

Is Hart undroppable?

None of England's players should be untouchable. Some are much safer than others, though. Two who fall into that category are Hart and captain Rooney.

Both are experienced at England level but also in the Champions League; they are hardened by the pain of disappointment at major tournaments but have also claimed titles at club level - in Rooney's case, with Manchester United.

Hart will be one of the first names on Hodgson's teamsheet. Assuming he stays clear of injury, it would take a calamitous loss of form in a very short space of time to see that changing at Euro 2016.

My verdict

Joe Hart
Joe Hart has been England's first-choice goalkeeper at each of their three major tournaments under Roy Hodgson

Hart remains England's best goalkeeper by some distance. One error, no matter how bad, should not change that.

He is experienced, respected by his England team-mates and trusted by his manager. It is unlikely the thought of a change of goalkeeper has even seriously crossed Hodgson's mind during his four years in charge.

This is not a situation similar to the one that confronted Fabio Capello at the start of the World Cup in South Africa in 2010. Back then, Hart was the rookie behind Robert Green and David James, and the goalkeeping place was up for grabs.

Capello had no established first choice, so when Green allowed Clint Dempsey's shot to slip through his grasp in the 1-1 draw against the United States in Rustenburg, it only underscored a glaring weakness in the squad and James was his instant replacement.

Here in France, Hart stands unchallenged as England's main goalkeeper. His place is not under threat. Nor should it be.