Life could hardly have gone better for Fraser Forster since he rejoined Celtic on loan from Southampton six weeks ago.
A clean sheet in a first European night in the east end of Glasgow for five years that allowed Neil Lennon’s men to put Cluj to the sword in authoritative fashion and move top of their Europa League group the other night represented one of the 31-year-old goalkeeper’s many happy returns.
Forster’s ability to rebuild a career that had gone awry down south with the club where he initially made his name inevitably has not been without consequence. The exiled has become the exiler as he has consigned Craig Gordon to an understudy role that the English international struggled with in the past two years.
Until he began a second spell with Celtic in late August he had made only one senior appearance in 20 months, losing his place after regaining it following a lengthy spell sidelined with a broken kneecap.
If anyone knows how Gordon must be feeling, it is Forster then. Yet, just as with Gordon capitalising on a hand injury sustained by Scott Bain, so the Southampton keeper must make the competition he has provided for Lennon work for him.
“It’s crucial that you have that, especially here where there are so many games – I think everyone is going to play at some point,” said Forster, who is sure to get the nod for Celtic’s encounter at Livingston this lunchtime.
“That competition is crucial, it gets the best out of the players in the team. You can’t take your foot off the gas because there is always going to be someone breathing down your neck ready to take your place. We have a great squad and a great atmosphere within that squad. We all want to win and push each other to be better.
“I understand Craig’s position more than anyone. When I’ve been out I’ve always tried to be the best guy for the one who is playing because that’s just the way it goes.
“It’s hard being a keeper because if you are not playing it can be frustrating… You just have to be ready because if we want to win things as a squad then ultimately it will take all of us.”
Forster maintains it need not be a bind to prove supportive to the very team-mate denying you the opportunity to do the job you are paid for.
“I think it just depends on yourself,” he said. “For me, I know it’s frustrating not playing but it’s not the other keeper’s fault because he doesn’t pick the team. I just always wanted to be the best guy when I wasn’t playing too. It’s a team game and you don’t want to drag everyone else down. Whether I play or don’t play I will give my best.”
The apogee of Forster’s first spell at Celtic will always be regarded as his unyielding displays against Barcelona that were crucial to the club posting a fabled victory over the Catalan side en route to reaching the last 16 of the Champions League in 2012-13.
Lennon has suggested the current squad at his disposal is superior to the one he had then. Forster is more circumspect when asked to compare the two eras.
“It’s always hard to do that,” he said, with Celtic’s path to the knock-out stages of this season Europa League now much dependent on their home-and-away double header with Lazio, following the Rennes draw and Cluj victory.
“I would say we had a fantastic team then and people went on and did very well off the back of that too. But I think we have a fantastic squad at the minute, a really good mixture of experience and youth. Even a lot of the young players have played a lot of games.
“We have great balance and togetherness within the squad. [There’s] a great team spirit, there is no reason why we can’t go on and do something special.
“It was brilliant to be back in a European night at Celtic Park. It’s just as I remembered. The atmosphere was fantastic but the most important thing was to get a good result and we’ve done that. It’s an important three points. This group is open and it’s going to be important to get results at home if you want to have any chance of getting out of the group.”