England axe leaves Celtic’s Forster with dilemma

Fraser Forster saves from Eoin Doyle during the Scottish Cup Final. Picture: Robert Perry
Fraser Forster saves from Eoin Doyle during the Scottish Cup Final. Picture: Robert Perry
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EVEN as he savours a season with Celtic which he says exceeded all expectations, Fraser Forster is already facing up to the prospect that it may still not be good enough to earn him the international recognition he craves.

The big goalkeeper kept his 22nd clean sheet of the season in Sunday’s Scottish Cup final at Hampden, helping Celtic complete the domestic double for the first time in six years at the end of a campaign in which he was also one of the stand-out performers in their memorable run to the last 16 of the Champions League.

But this has been a bitter-sweet end to 2012-13 for Forster after being dropped by England manager Roy Hodgson from the squad for the friendly matches against Republic of Ireland at Wembley tomorrow night and Brazil in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday.

Having been replaced by Alex McCarthy, a member of a Reading side newly relegated from the Premier League, it is a sobering reminder to Forster that plying his trade in Scottish football is still viewed by many south of the border as detrimental to his England credentials.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon has already expressed his own concerns that Forster’s omission from Hodgson’s squad could influence the 25-year-old former Newcastle United man to seek a return to English football.

Now Forster himself has admitted that, if Celtic cannot reach next season’s high-profile Champions League group stage avia three qualifying rounds, then he may have to consider an alternative way to catch Hodgson’s eye in his bid to be in the England squad for the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil. “The England situation is a tough one for me,” said Forster. “Celtic have been fantastic for me and this season couldn’t have gone much better, both personally and from the team’s point of view. So it is disappointing for me not to be in this latest England squad.

“I’ve got to be looking towards the World Cup next year and trying to be on that plane. I’ll just have to do whatever is necessary to make that squad. World Cups in Brazil don’t come around very often and it would be something special to be involved in. It’s one of my main aims next season and I’ll have to do whatever I can to make it happen.

“The exposure of playing in the Champions League obviously helped a lot. That is where you get to test yourself against the best players in the world. We’ll want to do well there again next year, but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

“I’ve quite a while left on my contract here and if we can get through the Champions League qualifiers, which will be tough, to get in the group stage again would be something special. We’ll just have to wait and see.

“Was that maybe the final time we all played together for Celtic on Sunday? Quite possibly. We’ve got some fantastic players and no doubt there will be some interest in them in the summer. If players leave, they leave.”

Forster’s Champions League heroics led to his first England call-up last October for the World Cup qualifers against San Marino and Poland. He retained his place for the November friendly in Sweden and although he missed out on February’s Wembley friendly against Brazil because of injury, he was recalled for the March World Cup ties against San Marino and Montenegro.

An unused substitute on each occasion he has been with the England squad, Forster faces keen competition for a place as one of Joe Hart’s understudies. In addition to McCarthy, Ben Foster of West Bromwich Albion has come out of international retirment while John Ruddy of Norwich City and Jack Butland of Stoke City are also in contention.

“I didn’t get an explanation as to why I was left out this time,” added Forster. “I haven’t spoken to anyone in the England camp. Yes, it was a bodyblow not to be in the squad. That’s where I want to be. Having had a taste of being in an England squad before and after Christmas, that’s what you’re aiming for. Once you’ve been in, you want to be in it every time.

“But it’s just one of those things I have to accept. We don’t get much of a break in the summer anyway, with the Champions League qualifiers starting in mid-July, so I just have to take the positives out of it. I’ll get a good rest and come back next season raring to go. My plan is go go away, get some sunshine and relax. It’s been a very long season.”

Forster has fully vindicated Celtic manager Lennon’s faith in him, initially as a loan signing for two consecutive seasons and then on a permanent move last summer on a contract which runs until 2016.

He has kept clean sheets in exactly half of his 142 first-team appearances so far, a remarkable statistic. The only time he looked likely to be denied another shut-out at Hampden was when he had to throw himself to his left to keep out a close range header by Hibs striker Eoin Doyle in the seventh minute. It proved a pivotal moment, Celtic taking the lead through Gary Hooper a minute later enroute to a comfortable 3-0 win.

“It was a comfortable save, to be honest,” said Forster. “It was nice to keep a clean sheet in the final. The lads took their chances when they got them and goals win games. It was just a wonderful result.

“It’s nice to contribute but we just dictated the pace of the game throughout. We were playing on the front foot throughout and didn’t give Hibs a look in. It’s been a brilliant season. It’s been a very long season but we’ve done well on all fronts. We wrapped the league up early doors and had this final to look forward to so it’s nice to get the job done.

“We’ve had a fantastic year and achieved a lot more than people probably expected. Winning the Scottish Cup was a great way to wrap up the season. We always wanted to win the double as it’s something special. So we’re delighted we’ve done it.”

• CELTIC have agreed to send a team to Clachnacuddin to mark the opening of the Highland club’s new stand.

The pre-season friendly will take place on Saturday, 6 July, and the Lilywhites are hoping Celtic first-team coach Danny McGrain will cut the ribbon.

Clach chairman Billy Corbett said: “We had Rangers here in 2011 and raised over £10,000, so I would expect Celtic to surpass that. It’s good for the Highland League clubs to get a good few bob. All Highland League clubs need all the help they can get.”

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Neil Lennon will do ‘all he can’ to keep hold of Gary Hooper