Pellegrini's Timing Perfect, so Joe Hart Must Make Premier League Return Count

Phil KeidelContributor IIDecember 20, 2013

"Don't call it a comeback!"
"Don't call it a comeback!"Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Joe Hart will be given the chance to reclaim his position as Manchester City's No. 1 keeper against Fulham at Craven Cottage this weekend, according to James Ducker and Tony Barrett of The Times.

Hart lost his job on Oct. 27 when his most recent of a series of gaffes cost City a crucial point at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea.

City boss Manuel Pellegrini has chosen an ideal spot for Hart's return to Premier League play.

Fulham are in a desperate scrap with Crystal Palace, Sunderland, West Ham United and West Bromwich Albion to avoid the drop. Only Sunderland (minus-18) have a worse goal difference than the Cottagers (minus-15) in the Premier League. So, Hart does not figure to be exceptionally busy against Fulham.

Pellegrini is also wise to reintroduce Hart to the XI away from Etihad Stadium. Craven Cottage has not been an intimidating place to play for some time.

The joyous reaction to a Hart error at Craven Cottage would likely be more subdued than would be the noisy panic such a miscue would cause at the Etihad.

As for the man who spelled Hart, Costel Pantilimon, he will probably feel hard done by even though this change was coming.

Pantilimon was not bad, but nor was he world class while spelling Hart.
Pantilimon was not bad, but nor was he world class while spelling Hart.Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

City have lost only one of Pantilimon's nine starts since the towering Romanian took over as first choice keeper, a 1-0 decision to Sunderland at the Stadium of Light.

Pantilimon's success, however, came largely due to an absurd explosion of goals in front of him and some soft opposition. Easy wins over Norwich City, Swansea City and an utterly confused Tottenham Hotspur side at home are not exactly resume builders.

In six of Pantilimon's starts, City scored at least three goals. In four of those starts, the Sky Blues netted at least five goals.

Most recently, Pantilimon's teammates papered over his mediocre keeping against league-leading Arsenal with six scores. That fact was not lost on ESPN's Ian Darke:

Further pushing Pellegrini to change keepers now is the calendar.

City host Liverpool on the day after Christmas, the start of a stretch of four matches in ten days. Given City's ongoing participation in four trophy chases, similar schedule-based demands are a virtual certainty as the season progresses.

So, if Pellegrini did not trust Pantilimon as his starter for the rest of the season, the Chilean needed to get Hart active again as soon as possible.

And, of course, none of this rules out the possibility that Hart is playing for his City career.

If Hart flounders again in the coming weeks, Pellegrini could still turn to the January transfer window to stabilize City's keeper position. 

You have to hand it to Pellegrini. He set Hart up perfectly to succeed.

It is now up to Hart to go out and reward his manager's restored faith.