Manager Gareth Southgate names his squad for next week’s World Cup qualifiers with Malta and Slovakia on Thursday, and his goalkeeper selection is a key issue.
Southgate is giving serious consideration to installing Stoke’s Jack Butland between the posts for the trip to minnows Malta on Friday week.
He watched Butland keep a clean sheet against Arsenal last Saturday and rates him highly, having worked with him when he was boss of the Three Lions’ Under-21s.
There is a growing belief the 24-year-old will become England’s first-choice keeper before the World Cup finals in Russia next summer.
The only issue is when the change is made from Hart to Butland.
Suddenly, Southgate is blessed with a real selection dilemma in the keeper department.
Everton new boy Jordan Pickford is the other emerging goalie on his radar, but the older Butland is ahead of him in the queue.
Hart fears for his place and moved to West Ham on a season’s loan from Manchester City so he would play regularly in the Premier League, with the priority to re-establish himself as Southgate’s No1.
But he has had a sticky start, conceding four and three goals in their opening two matches, and there are worries about form and confidence which Southgate will monitor closely over the next few international get-togethers.
Hart’s status as the best keeper in the nation was called into question after Euro 2016 — his mistakes against Iceland and Wales, together with suggestions he got over-hyped before games, raising serious alarm bells.
His performance was questioned again after letting in two goals direct from free-kicks away to Scotland at the end of last season, and Southgate used Burnley’s Tom Heaton and Butland in the following game against France.
That friendly in Paris signalled the beginning of the end for Hart who now faces a battle, with Butland, Pickford, Heaton and Fraser Forster of Southampton all vying for a place in the squad.
Hart, Butland and Pickford would appear to be the top three in Southgate’s mind now, with the emergence of the latter since his move from Sunderland to Goodison piling pressure on Heaton and Forster.
Southgate has shown with his handling of record scorer and former captain Wayne Rooney — dropping him for the last two squads before he announced his international retirement on Wednesday — that he is prepared to be ruthless, and the warning signs are now there for Hart.