England keeper Joe Hart dropped – but Southgate keeps mum
Tom Heaton and Jack Butland will play against France as Harry Kane keeps the captain's armband in Paris
Joe Hart has paid the price for his performance against Scotland and will not feature in tonight's friendly against France in Paris. Instead Three Lions manager Gareth Southgate will start with Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton and Stoke's Jack Butland will guard the goal in the second half.
Hart was widely perceived to be at fault for the two free-kicks Scotland scored in Saturday's 2-2 World Cup qualifying draw, although Southgate was at pains to tell reporters that the Manchester City keeper wasn't being punished. "It was never my intention to play Joe in this game," said Southgate. "They were great free-kicks. Beyond that, coaching conversations I have with players stay private. If we go down that route then it's not the right thing to do. I go back to the concession of free-kicks being the starting point."
It remains to be seen whether Hart, who has amassed 71 caps since making his debut against Trinidad and Tobago in 2008, will be seen again in an England shirt. The 30-year-old is set to be released by City and as yet there are no takers for the gloveman whose career has been in steady decline since he was loaned out to Torino last summer by Pep Guardiola.
With Heaton, Butland and Southampton's Fraser Forster all challenging for the number one jersey, Hart's international career may be drawing to a close, although Southgate seems delighted to have so much competition for places.
"You need to give players the opportunity," he explained. "In the past, one or two keepers have given up international football because they've not had that chance so I'm conscious of keeping players involved. With those four and [Sunderland's] Jordan Pickford, plus a couple of lads coming up potentially from the Championship next year, we are very healthy."
And Southgate is also keen to create competition for the captain's armband with Harry Kane again accorded the honour, three days after leading the Three Lions against Scotland. The Tottenham striker was the fifth skipper in seven games against the Scots, but Southgate told reporters he is in no rush to appoint a permanent captain.
"I am not committing to a timescale on that," he said, when pressed on the matter. "I think it has been a good experience to develop other leaders. We're seeing that not only in terms of responsibility but the way the group are prepared to contribute when we're discussing games, when we're reviewing games. There's lots of potential leaders in different ways - some are at the forefront, speak first, lead from the front in different ways. Others more thoughtful, take responsibility on the ball, show leadership in other ways. Everybody's different. But I am not in a rush to make that decision... I think it has been good to devolve the leadership."
Southgate will also be keen to see his side develop on the pitch, given that in the seven matches since he replaced Sam Allardyce as manager he has only three wins to his credit - and those against Malta, Scotland and Lithuania (182nd, 61st and 104th in Fifa's world rankings). A victory, albeit in a midweek friendly, against last year's European Championship finalists, would be the perfect way for England to head off their summer holidays and Southgate is relishing tonight's French test in the Stade de France.
"We have to test ourselves against the best," he said. "It's the best way to learn and improve. It's about the evolution of the team and how we get better. We have to challenge the lads, with or without the ball, to perform at the highest level."