England expects ... but untested Forster may fear a cap call will elude him

FRASER FORSTER wasn't troubled by Hearts at the weekend, bar for one header in the dying minutes cleared off his line by Kris Commons.

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Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster had little to do between the sticks
Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster had little to do between the sticks

However, Celtic's overpowering form in domestic matches - the 2-0 victory stretched their clean sheet streak to four games and their unbeaten run in the Premiership to sweet 16 - means the giant keeper does have something to trouble him off the park.

Quite simply, will he have enough to do between now and the end of the season to retain his place in England's World Cup squad?

Forster is one of the most intelligent players in the game, well-placed to study economics at university had his football career not taken off.

He has already worked out that four into three positions in Roy Hodgson's squad doesn't go.

Forster is only too aware No.1 Joe Hart is back in favour - and in goal - at Manchester City, and that Ben Foster also returned to first-team action at the weekend for West Brom after four months out with a broken foot during which he lost his place in the national squad.

Like Norwich's John Ruddy, Foster has the distinct advantage of using the intense spotlight which illuminates the English Premier League every week to remind Hodgson just what he can bring to the party.

And, with West Brom and Norwich not exactly renowned for blowing their opponents away, their keepers have plenty of opportunities to make eye-catching saves.

Contrast that with Forster, who acknowledged the importance of Champions League football to showcase his skills and keep him in the mind and eye of those who will make the decisions about the travelling party for Brazil.

Saturday was another day when he could have filled one of the very many empty seats in the stands surrounding him, for all he was involved in the one-way traffic towards the goal of his Hearts counterpart, the very busy Jamie MacDonald.

The Jambos goal guardian lost seven the last time the clubs met. Even though he finished on the losing side again at the weekend, he can at least take consolation from the fact he made a string of superb saves and enhanced his reputation.

Looking on from afar - well, some 110 yards downfield - was Forster, who must secretly have been wishing the two men with the gloves could have traded places for at least a part of the game.

Such a move would not have looked out of order because this 'contest' had all the appearance of the training function, attackers versus defenders.

Even when Commons finally broke the deadlock after 63 minutes with a coolly-finished strike, the chance set up by a precise through-ball from Scott Brown, Hearts stuck to their 10-behind-the-ball game plan.

That set-up ensured Forster wasn't the only unhappy spectator on a miserable afternoon which made Christmas shopping look like an enjoyable option.

Only the appearance at half- time of James Forrest for Nir Biton did anything to lift the occasion, his positive running and willingness to commit defenders unsettling the deep-lying Hearts rearguard.

The 22-year-old got his reward with an injury-time - how appropriate for him - winner when a rare Hearts foray forward saw them caught on the break. Given the visitors' extensive injury list and sundry other problems, this was never going to be a pre-Chistmas cracker.

But their ultra-defensive approach knocked the stuffing out of the crowd, reflected in the less-than-jolly atmosphere.

It was the last game to be played at Celtic Park in 2013, and it was no way to bring the curtain down.

Here's hoping when Partick Thistle arrive as first footers on January 1 they bring some sort of positive thinking with them.

However, the chances are Forster could be facing more and more watching briefs in the coming months.

Assistant manager Johan Mjallby - standing in for Neil Lennon who had dental issues - did not attempt to wrap up Saturday's fare as anything other than the turkey it was.But he can understand why opponents adopt such tactics.

The fact Celtic have scored five and seven in their away games before being held at home to a 1-0 win against Hibs, then frustrated for so long by Hearts, emphasises the situation is most acute when they are on their own turf.

Mjallby said: "Teams do set up more defensively when they come to Celtic Park.

"At home, they feel forced to go forward a little bit more, and that opens up more space for our attacking players. But we're getting used to this when we are at home and teams are sitting in.

"It's up to us to break them down, try to get our passing game going and show a bit more trickery and forcefulness when we go forward.

"It's hard, but at least we were patient against Hearts. And the only chance we allowed them was in the dying minutes when they had a header to equalise before we got our second."

How everyone at Celtic would love Santa to bring them a creative player this Christmas. But, for now, a fit Forrest will bring a bit of festive cheer.

"You always want James playing for 90 minutes," said Mjallby almost wistfully. "He's perfect for the situation where you find the opposition sitting in.

"It was great to see him come back into the side because, with his pace and quick feet, he can take players on and open up space for team-mates.

"That happened in the second half, and we looked better and really controlled the game."

The frustration, however, is that, while everyone knows what Forrest can bring to the party, his injury problems mean no-one can say for sure how long he will stay.

"Sure," agreed Mjallby. "And obviously we have a few other injuries as well, so we don't really have anyone similar to James. Players like him are hard to find. James is one of our most important players.

"Bu we need to move the ball a bit quicker and try to open up teams and we're aiming to progress in that department."


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