Priceless Forster shares wealth of praise with Celtic pals

IT IS fitting that a man whose career path was heading towards a degree in economics is now being so economical with the goals he is conceding.

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Fraser Forster has developed a successful relationship with Virgil van Dijk at Celtic
Fraser Forster has developed a successful relationship with Virgil van Dijk at Celtic

Fraser Forster certainly won't need any help counting down the 31 minutes he needs to keep the ball out of his net at Tynecastle on Saturday to surpass the all-time Scottish league clean-sheet record of 1,155 minutes set by Bobby Clark in 1971.

The giant goalie was able to match the Dons' legend's record for games without giving up a goal in the league when he stretched his current run to 12 against St Johnstone.

But, for all the focus which is on Forster - even down south they are aware of his glory run - he needs no reminding just one bad bounce, or deflection (as almost happened late in the match against Saints) could bring his record crashing down upon his head.

You get the impression that, for all his laid-back facade, he will be a very relieved man when he finally passes the milestone, not least because the son of a judge from Hexham finds being in the spotlight a bit of a trial.

Sure, he likes to do well, and appreciates the plaudits that come with achievements, like the one which currently brings his name into every press conference held by manager Neil Lennon, or any of his team-mates.

And there is no denying the extra publicity generated has ensured he remains very much in the thoughts of England boss, Roy Hodgson, especially important when there is no Champions League stage on which to showcase his talents.

But, Forster is much happier doing his talking on the park than to the media.

And, he revealed it is the unspoken words between himself and his defensive team-mates, especially Virgil van Dijk and Efe Ambrose, which carry most resonance.

The Hoops legend - described at the weekend by Lennon as one of the greatest keepers the club has ever had - explained: "We all know each other's games now, and we are all used to playing alongside one another.

"We already know what the other is going to do when they have the ball before they do. That understanding is priceless."

The full-back positions have suffered more personnel changes this season, particularly right-back where Mikael Lustig and Adam Matthews have both endured lengthy spells on the sidelines through surgery.

Darnell Fisher has been an able deputy, and the teenager may now have to slot in again for Emilio Izaguirre at left-back after the Honduran suffered a thigh injury early in Sunday's game against St Johnstone.

Forster appreciates more than most how important it is the back line performs as a unit, and he has nothing but praise for the men who have protected him so well this season.

A study of match stats shows that, on average, during this shut-out run, Forster has been called upon to make two saves per game.

Any other keeper in the country would be delighted with that workload.

But when called upon, Forster has to show not only ability and agility - the yoga he practises at extra gym sessions after training helps - but also total concentration, something which he has had to learn since moving from Newcastle three years ago.

Forster is mindful he could never have got where he is today not only without the help of his team-mates, but also those in the background who push him in training every day.

Goalie coach, Stevie Woods - who played for Clydebank, Preston and Motherwell - has been a huge part of his success, while the sports science department, where Bill Styles leads the way, is also a key part of Forster's regime.

"Generally, there have been improvements across all areas of the game, whether it's technical or tactical," Forster told the Celtic View.

"Even the mental side of the game, Woodsy has been brilliant with that. He really understands the position.

"I have obviously improved physically in the areas of strength, power and speed.

The work Stevie and Bill have put in has been absolutely fantastic and one of the key reasons for the way I have been playing."

The one dark cloud on the horizon for Hoops fans is the growing realisation that Forster's tenure as Celtic No.1 may be about to end, as even Lennon appears resigned to losing him to a huge offer in the summer.

Replacing him will be a massive task as the keeper Lennon moved heaven and earth to bring to the club soon after he became manager in 2010 was nothing like as good as he is now.

Lukasz Zaluska has been a long-time understudy. But, the paucity of games the Pole has played during that time - he has made just one appearance this season, the League Cup defeat to Morton - leaves question marks about his credentials to step right in.

Whoever has to fill Forster's gloves will be aware of the shadow he has cast for many years to come.

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