Hart not happy - but supporting his rivals for the jersey

Nick Pope and Joe Hart
Nick Pope and Joe Hart
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Sean Dyche admits Joe Hart wasn’t happy to be dropped.

But he insists the former England number one is very much behind his rivals for the jersey.

Club captain Tom Heaton has started the last two Premier League games, having waiting since September 2017 for a top flight appearance after a dislocated shoulder, and the form of Nick Pope and Hart.

Pope also suffered a dislocated shoulder in July, but could return in the FA Cup tie at home to Barnsley on Saturday, leaving Dyche with one of his toughest possible selection dilemmas.

Dyche explained it was a difficult decision to leave out Hart, who was an ever-present for the first half of the Premier League campaign after his summer arrival from Manchester City: “He’s a top class pro and has a lot of respect for Tom and vice versa, with all the keepers, but they’ve known each other a long time.

“Not happy, of course, but not happy as an individual, he absolutely wants the team to do well, he’s bought into what we do.

“He didn’t come in under any illusions, and I told him it would be a tough season. I commend him for that.

“The hardest thing with the keeper role is that a lot of things that have happened this season have not been down to Joe.

“Eventually as manager you have to change people in the format, we have changed the format and tried a few different things and eventually I had to look at the goalkeeping situation and that is just the way it goes.

“But I can assure you that not everything is about Joe. There has been a lot going on in front of him that hasn’t been right at times and he has helped us get points on the board and at some point you have to make a decision and that is my job.”

Pope is champing at the bit after his cruel fortune at Pittodrie, shortly after returning from the high of the World Cup, where England reached the semi-final for only the third time: “He’s been good, he’s had a really good rehab, he had Tom to work with, to bounce off, and he’s got a really good mentality anyway.

“He’s come back in and got stronger and stronger.

“He’s been with us for about a month, and there’s a decision to make this weekend, he’s feeling really good and is clear minded about things.

“He is a top prospect, we always thought he was, but we kept him off the radar while he learned what we were about, the Premier League is about, and we had Robbo, who was terrific for us.

“That allowed that learning time, we’ve developed a lot of players, in a way that the process has worked.

“Not thrown them in too early, making sure they’re right, they know how we work, giving them a feel of how it works in the Premier League, and then they have a feel before they get their real chance.

“You can’t do it always, sometimes players get thrust in with necessity, I like players to work with the group for a while.”

The Under 23s return to action next week, and Pope could also be involved: “He (Pope) is in a state of mind that he wants as much football as he can get. He has been really clear with that.

“I like them (players) to be absolutely sure that they are right and he is absolutely sure that he is right.

“We spoke to him about it and he said ‘I feel great’ so does Wardy. I have been holding him back a little and he said he feels bang on. Steven is the same, he feels really good about things at the minute so sometimes you have to trust the players as well. I am perhaps a bit more cautious with injuries but if they feel 100% then I am happy to go with that.”