Eriksson takes Hart for Villa clash

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src='' class='caption'> Joe Hart will face Aston Villa having being formally endorsed as Manchester City's number one goalkeeper by manager Sven Goran Eriksson.

Updated: December 23, 2007 17:47 IST
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Joe Hart will face Aston Villa having being formally endorsed as Manchester City's number one goalkeeper by manager Sven Goran Eriksson.

Eriksson has insisted throughout the season that his three keepers - Hart, Kasper Schmeichel, son of Manchester United great Peter, and Andreas Isaksson - had an equal chance of establishing themselves as first choice and gave each player an extended run in the side.

But the manager has now declared England Under-21 international Hart, 20, will be his regular starter, a move that will almost certainly trigger the exit of Isaksson in the January transfer window.

"A meeting has taken place and on Saturday, Joe Hart will play," former England coach Eriksson said.

"For now, he's our number one for the time being. I have had talks with Andreas Isaksson and obviously he is not very happy but I have to make a choice and at this moment, I have chosen Joe," the Swede added.

"I don't know if he (Isaksson) wants to leave or stay to fight for his place. I've told him it is very much up to him.

"It's important for me and the players to come up with this decision before the window opens in January. I think Joe will be a great, great keeper. He's already a great keeper but he is only 20 so he will be better and better and he's an Under-21 international for England, so I think he has a great future, as does Andreas and Kasper Schmeichel."

Sweden international Isaksson, 26, has been dogged by injuries since his two million pounds (four million dollars) move from Rennes but is now fully fit and wants first team football.

City go to Villa Park in fourth place in the Premier League but having suffered the shock of losing their 100 percent home record this season earlier in the week when they lost to Tottenham in the League Cup quarter-final.

Eriksson accepts Saturday's match will be a measure of his side's character. "We were very disappointed after the Spurs game but we cannot allow that to hang over us," he said.

Togo midfielder Moustapha Salifou could make his full Villa debut over the festive period - after finally coming to terms with life at the Midlands club.

The pre-season arrival from Swiss side FC Wil has yet to figure in the Premier League for manager Martin O'Neill, because of work permit and fitness problems, but has impressed in the reserves of late and will be part of the squad for the whole of the Christmas and New Year programme.

"I want competition in the middle of the field. Moustapha Salifou is doing very well and his fitness has improved immensely," O'Neill said.

The manager also has Patrick Berger, Isiah Osbourne and possibly Stiliyan Petrov fit again, after a hamstring injury, which has kept the Bulgarian midfielder out since December 1.

"We've been lucky with injuries, but we have four games in quick succession and I'm sure a few players will be used," former Northern Ireland midfielder and Celtic boss O'Neill added.

"It would be hard to sustain the squad we have with the sort of injuries other clubs have had but this sort of thing is always just around the corner. It's part of the game but it's something we want to address in January.

Villa are keen to return to winning ways in front of their own fans, having lost their previous two home fixtures against Arsenal and Portsmouth.

"We have taken a little bruising at Villa Park and we need to get those confidence levels back up at home," said O'Neill.

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