Pantilimon's chance to impress

Posted by David Mooney

Following a difficult few weeks/months (delete as you feel appropriate) for Joe Hart, it looked as though fortunes might have been taking a turn for the better for the England international, as the ball ricocheted off his upper left thigh from Keisuke Honda in the third minute of added time when Manchester City won at CSKA Moscow. A mere four days later, though, came a rush of blood to the head and a draw at Chelsea became a defeat at Chelsea thanks to another poor decision from the shot-stopper.

And now, as the Blues prepare for their fourth away game running in the shape of a trip to Newcastle in the Capital One Cup, it looks as though manager Manuel Pellegrini is running out of both excuses and patience with his goalkeeper. "We are going to see the best way to arrange things," the Chilean said in his post-match press conference. "What do I think about the goal? I won't talk about it. What do I think about my goalkeeper's performance? I repeat, the analysis I do with individual players I do with the players."

It's likely that the goalkeeping position would be rotated for the trip to St James' Park on Tuesday evening anyway, with Costel Pantilimon being given a chance to play his part in the Capital One Cup. He started against Wigan in the previous round, and he played all of the cup competitions (barring the FA Cup final) last season, too.

There have been increasing calls, however, for the Romanian to be handed the first team goalkeeping slot on a more regular basis, with the number of errors Hart has made since the start of last season creeping towards double figures and the points the club are losing due to individual errors starting to leave the 'concerning' status and heading towards 'alarming'.

The problem is, Pantilimon's appearances last season came largely against lower league opposition. The run of clean sheets in the FA Cup saw Stoke as the only top-level opponents, with Watford, Leeds and Barnsley completing the list. He did well against Chelsea in the semi-final but in the League Cup earlier in the campaign he shipped four (over 120 minutes and with a couple of errors from defenders, to be fair) to Aston Villa. He could also have done better for Chelsea's second in the 2012 Community Shield.

In terms of the games he's played in the two seasons he's been with the club, Pantilimon hasn't overly impressed -- mainly because he hasn't had the chance to. That Wembley semi-final is probably the closest he's come, though he still wasn't at his busiest -- some catches under pressure towards the end of the game and a one-on-one with Juan Mata was all he had to do.

Tomorrow evening will be a 'free' chance for him to impress his new manager. His only previous appearance under Pellegrini led to him mainly keeping warm in his area, as Wigan rarely left their own half. With Hart likely to have been left out for this competition anyway, Pantilimon should face more of a test against Newcastle.

With five wins from 11 games all season (two in the Capital One Cup and three in the Premier League), Newcastle have had an indifferent start to 2013-14. Knowing that City are likely to rotate their starting line-up, the Magpies may sense an opportunity to bounce back from the Tyne-Wear derby defeat at the weekend.

The Blues' recent record in the north-east is mixed: They've won five out of the last six visits to Newcastle, but lost three of the last four trips to Sunderland. Though with a potential eleven changes to be made by Pellegrini, recent records hardly count for much.

This will be a chance for the Chilean to blow away the ghosts of Stamford Bridge. He can have a look at some more of his options that have had little game time so far this season through injury or a lack of opportunities -- Jack Rodwell, Stevan Jovetic, James Milner…

The questions over Hart's position, however, won't be answered until the Blues face Norwich next Saturday.

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