Published On: Wed, Aug 24th, 2016

Hart has little to do in possible send-off as City sails into Champions League

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Manchester City completed the formality of progressing into the Champions League group stages after overcoming Steaua Bucharest via a 6-0 aggregate scoreline on Wednesday.

A second-half header from Fabian Delph ensured a 1-0 stroll over the Romanians at the Etihad Stadium, adding to the 5-0 whitewash last week, in a match which tended to resemble a Joe Hart testimonial rather than a competitive tie.

City and England‘s first-choice goalkeeper for six years had been unceremoniously benched by Pep Guardiola since he took the helm this summer, and Claudio Bravo‘s expected arrival should pave the way for Hart’s exit. His selection for this midweek monotony was seen by many as a final farewell for the terrace favourite.

Aside from showing a few assured touches with the ball at his feet – at odds with those who’ve suggested the incumbent No. 1’s lack of ease in possession had encouraged Guardiola to jettison the 29-year-old – Hart had very little to do as his teammates cruised in second gear.

Related – Hart-wrenching: Why Guardiola dismissed England’s No. 1

In addition to the emotional recognition of the adulation Hart was receiving from his supporters, there were worrying scenes when teenage striker Kelechi Iheanacho writhed on the turf after hounding for the ball. The Nigerian was withdrawn with an apparent calf injury, leaving Guardiola’s striking options scarce beyond the rested Sergio Aguero.

Nineteen-year-old Pablo Maffeo was selected for his competitive debut in the tie, but his clear confusion in trying to satisfy Guardiola’s innovative use of full-backs epitomised a disjointed and languid opening stanza from the home side. The only cheers that were heard among the Eastlands faithful were half-hearted, and regularly recognised the times Hart found himself getting involved in proceedings.

The second half continued in the same vain, with Delph – proving his usual wiry and pacey self in a rare start – managing to win the second leg with a neat header. The former Aston Villa midfielder was the recipient of a composed delivery from Jesus Navas – oft-maligned for his daisy-cutting and often fruitless crosses – on the right flank.

The match was limping uneventfully to its conclusion when Iheanacho suffered his concerning issue. Fernandinho was introduced in his stead with around 15 minutes remaining.

Perhaps not the heroic City farewell Hart may have envisaged (if, indeed, he does leave), but the regularly safe hands of the Salopian – winner of four Premier League Golden Glove awards – characteristically signed off his night’s work with a clean sheet.

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