Considering that Southampton fans were pining for a prolific striker in order to turn a stuttering campaign around, Fraser Forster wasn’t perhaps the first name on many lips to do that. Yet after the last five games garnered an impressive 13 points, the goalkeeper’s impact following his return to the first team could not have been more profound; a previously leaky defence has now kept five successive clean sheets.
In the first three games of that spell, the England international could have played with his eyes closed as Saints cruised to victory over Watford, West Brom and Man United whilst barely conceding a shot. But against Arsenal and West Ham, it was a different story. The trip to the Emirates in particular showed just how good a goalkeeper Forster really is, as the giant stopper was like a human wall, deflecting shot after shot to safety.
Even with a one-man disadvantage against the Hammers for most of the second half, the Saints keeper was rarely tested. But when it mattered, as Winston Reid’s point-blank header looked destined to go in, Forster came up with a last-ditch stop to lead his side to a crucial win.
As the former Celtic man was behind the second best defence in the league last season, it was perhaps difficult to really judge how good he was. For someone who stands at 6ft 7in, he seemed to not truly command his box like he perhaps should have. But as he watched Maarten Stekelenburg and the rest of the Saints defence concede some sloppy goals, perhaps the penny dropped amongst the St Mary’s faithful about how good their England international really was.
His name was loudly cheered on his return against Watford, and the effect he has just by being in goal shows that his team-mates believe in him just as much as the supporters. Stekelenburg is not a bad goalkeeper by any stretch of the imagination, but Forster seems to have that incredible ability to make the most breathtaking saves over and over again.
Whilst Jack Butland’s decent season at Stoke gave hope that England actually did have an alternative in case Joe Hart was to pick up an injury, Forster and his successful return under the watchful eye of Saints’ and England’s goalkeeping coach, Dave Watson, makes the Three Lions’ options between the sticks arguably the strongest in the squad.
But with Forster’s previous Champions League experience, perhaps he has pushed himself to the front of the queue when it comes to being Hart’s understudy.
In fact, it is not hard to imagine that Ronald Koeman’s side would have been competing in the Europa League group stages if it was the 27-year-old in goal on that rainy night in Denmark, such is the confidence that he exudes.
Forster is incredibly important off the pitch, too. His interviews and videos of him behind the scenes make him seem like one of the more quieter players in the group, but popular all the same. Building a core of down to earth players in a dressing room, forming a group that sticks together for a long time, is more likely to help when other players do leave, and create a real sense of community at the training ground.
Whereas Saints have rapidly soared through the English footballing pyramid, players coming and going quickly is nothing out of the ordinary. Fans may have noticed the likes of Adam Lallana and Morgan Schneiderlin leaving, but less attention has been paid to the other end of the scale; the likes of Guly, Jos Hooiveld and Richard Chaplow have all left just because they were surplus to requirements.
But as Saints are inevitably slowing down their rise up the tables, the personnel turnover is likely to follow suit. With the likes of Forster, Jose Fonte, Steven Davis all in that constant group, perhaps the gates at Staplewood will feel less like a revolving door.
Having said that, Forster is a very good goalkeeper. With the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United all likely to replace their goalkeepers in the next two seasons, perhaps the bigger clubs will come circling again at St Mary’s.
Watson even said himself that had it not been for injury that Forster would have been interesting top four clubs, and it is arguable that, going on current form, that he would be a far bigger loss than Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mané, who have both been heavily linked with moves away.
In the case of Mané, that is not a criticism of his undoubted ability but more a sign of just how good Forster is, and his ability to give performances like the one against Arsenal when it is needed.
The gentle giant has certainly made his presence count. He may not have been the fans’ expected season-changer, but that sums up the former Celtic man. Quiet and unassuming off the pitch, but when it absolutely matters, Forster will come to the rescue time and time again. It’s no wonder he’s one of Koeman’s first names on the teamsheet, and the St Mary’s faithful will hope it stays that way for a long time.