CELTIC manager Neil Lennon is adamant that Fraser Forster will not be making his final appearance for the club in their Scottish Premiership meeting with Dundee United at Tannadice today.
The English goalkeeper has been the subject of interest from Benfica recently and appeared to cast some doubt on his Celtic future this week when he said he would “have to wait and see what happens over the next few days”.
With the transfer window in Portugal not closing until Monday night, in common with the majority of European countries, Benfica could feasibly still make a late move for Forster who excelled against them in last season’s Champions League.
But Lennon has revealed Celtic have written to the Lisbon club to make their position clear on Forster and he is confident the 25-year-old will be content to remain with the Scottish champions.
“Fraser’s not for sale,” said Lennon. “We have actually written a letter to one club, just warning them off basically. We’ve had no confirmed bids for Fraser. I think his head will be in the right place once the window shuts. He’s got a lot to look forward to but he’s not for sale.”
Lennon’s faith in Forster, whom he initially signed on loan from Newcastle United before making the move permanent in a £2 million deal last year, has been vindicated by the player’s progress in forcing his way into the full England squad.
The Celtic supporters have not always matched Lennon’s admiration of Forster, a scenario he is frustrated to discover is now also being played out with winger James Forrest.
The 22-year-old Scotland international was Celtic’s hero on Wednesday night, scoring the stoppage time goal which earned their passage into the Champions League group stage. Lennon hopes the club’s fans will now show greater appreciation of a player he could not regard more highly. “I don’t know what the fans want from him,” said Lennon. “It’s rubbish. There are times when he has got three opponents hanging off him and he still seems to get away from them.
“I don’t know if the fans expect him to do that all the time, it’s impossible to do that. But for what he’s done in his career so far, I think he’s had a fabulous start. There is far more to come from him as well. I think he’s one of the most naturally gifted footballers to come out of the country in a long time.
“He just wants to play, but it’s not always been possible for him as he has been ravaged with injuries. It’s sad sometimes, it’s like watching a thoroughbred lame.
“When he plays and when he’s in full flow, we don’t have many better than him, I really believe that. He’s brave, he always wants to take the ball, he tries to make something happen and I couldn’t have been more pleased for him when he scored the goal. He’d really taken a heavy dunt from one of the Shakhter players and he was feeling it, so in more ways than one he’s brave.
“The tackle was a shocker. He seems to be on the receiving end of them a lot, because he’s so quick and gets that foot or so away from people.”
Lennon is hopeful Forrest will be able to face a Dundee United side whose season kicked into gear with their 4-0 win over St Johnstone last Saturday.
“I didn’t see that one coming to be honest,” said Lennon. “Both of them had made opposite starts to the season, St Johnstone had got off quite well and Dundee United had stuttered a little bit. So it was a fabulous win for them and they had another win in the League Cup on Wednesday night.
“These games are the hard ones because of the effort and the energy the players have put in during a Champions League game. We’ve been told over the last six months that if you play on the Tuesday night and your game is on the Saturday, you’ve far more chance of not getting injuries than if you play Wednesday and Saturday.
“So we’ve got two days to recover before we play at 12.45pm, so we’ve got to be mindful of the game in terms of who starts and who doesn’t but, from what I gather, we’ve got a clean bill of health.”
Dundee United manager Jackie McNamara has called on his side to improve their record against Celtic at Tannadice this afternoon.
United have conceded 18 goals in their last four games against Celtic, although they pushed them all the way in one of those encounters, the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final in April.
After beating St Johnstone 4-0 last weekend and winning 3-2 at Dumbarton in a week of League Cup difficulties for top-flight clubs, United should go into the fixture on a high.
McNamara said: “I think it will be a good game and a good crowd. They will obviously be delighted after their result on Wednesday night and full of confidence. If we can make sure we keep it tight against them and cause them problems when we have got the ball then we can go and hurt them.”