London – Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has revealed Joe Hart has finally been restored as his club's first choice goalkeeper.
Hart made his first Premier League start since October 27 as City kept their title challenge on track with a 4-2 win at Fulham on Saturday and he is set to keep his place for the immediate future.
The England international was dropped by Pellegrini after a series of errors culminated in a costly blunder in City's 2-1
defeat at Chelsea and he had only appeared in three Champions League and League Cup ties until the weekend visit to Craven Cottage.
His spell as back-up to Romania international Costel Pantilimon appears to be over for now, with Pellegrini confirming after Saturday's match that Hart would keep his place for the next game.
That fixture could hardly be more crucial as Liverpool, who moved top of the Premier League with a 3-1 victory over Cardiff on Saturday, are the visitors to Eastlands for Thursday's Boxing Day clash.
City are up to second place ahead of Arsenal and Chelsea, who meet on Monday, and Pellegrini said: “Joe Hart did very well and we will see what will happen.
“For the moment, Joe will continue in the next game. He deserved to play today and he deserves to continue.
“When I put Pantilimon in I spoke with Joe and he understood perfectly that he was not in a good moment.
“Seven games and one month afterwards, he has been working very hard and I thought he deserved another opportunity.
“It was a tough decision because we were winning - Pantilimon was doing well also - but I thought for this game it was better for Joe to play.”
City will have to cope with Liverpool's prolific striker Luis Suarez on Boxing Day if they are to maintain their record of having won all their home games in the Premier League so far this season.
“It will be very difficult because Liverpool are a very good team and Suarez is in a good moment,” Pellegrini said.
“But this Premier League will not be about just Liverpool and Manchester City, there are five or six teams who will fight for the title to the end.”
City's defending was not very impressive against Fulham however.
Having gone 2-0 up through Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany, they allowed Fulham to reply with a goal that stemmed from David Silva losing the ball and Adel Taarabt making rapid ground down the left to square for an unmarked Kieran Richardson to score.
Then Kompany sliced a clearance into his own net before two goals in the last 12 minutes from substitutes Jesus Navas and James Milner spared City's blushes.
Fulham remain in the bottom three and head coach Rene Meulensteen admitted that their own defensive frailties had cost them on a day when there had been no questions about their work-rate.
“The goals that we conceded, especially the second one just before half-time with the set-play to the far post, we weren't good enough,” he said.
“These are goals that are hard to take.”
Fulham will hope star striker Dimitar Berbatov will be back for Thursday's trip to Norwich.
The Bulgarian was ruled out with a groin injury caused by “kicking the ball wrongly” in training, Meulensteen said. – Sapa-AFP