Fraser Forster has got used to being jeered when he plays in goal for Tottenham – but not by his own fans.
The former Celtic goalkeeper, who celebrated his 35th birthday on Friday, made his debut at Ibrox in front of a hostile Rangers crowd. The first competitive game he played at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium was against Portsmouth, who were unforgiving of the eight years he spent on Southampton’s books.
Forster returns to St Mary’s on Saturday in a happier spot. Hugo Lloris’ knee injury could have been catastrophic for Spurs’ Champions League hope but thanks to their second-choice stopper, they have kept three clean sheets, beaten West Ham and Chelsea, and have the chance to consolidate their place in the top four with a victory over his old side.
Spurs have typically not had such luck when it came to back-up ‘keepers. Joe Hart’s Achilles was exposed early – anyone could have a go from 20 yards out. Pierluigi Gollini earned the unfortunate nickname “Goal-in-ny”. Michel Vorm twice made errors that led to FA Cup exits against Leicester and Norwich. Paulo Gazzaniga was probably the best of them, but he inevitably became dissatisfied with the lack of game time.
“Forster’s been brilliant, I wouldn’t think anybody could criticise him,” former Spurs goalkeeper Pat Jennings tells i.
“Poor old Hugo has been getting criticised for half-mistakes. They’re saying it’s his age, 36 – I was playing in the World Cup finals on my 41st birthday. He’s got a long way to go to catch up to that, and how can you criticise a World Cup winner?
“He’s been brilliant over the years – I wouldn’t be thinking about replacing him, he’s as good as anybody there is out there at the minute.”
Indeed Antonio Conte has confirmed Forster will not oust Lloris more permanently, though that was never the intention when he signed. He did not cost Spurs a penny and has had moments of inspiration – tipping Serge Aurier’s header over the bar against Nottingham Forest and saving Andre Ayew’s penalty.
There have been slip-ups, such as his positioning for the goals in the 4-1 defeat to Leicester and failing to deal with Raul Jimenez’s shot against Wolves that ultimately led to Adama Traore’s match-winner. That is not necessarily a damning mark against him –Lloris too has made four errors leading directly to goals this season.
“Fraser is showing to be a reliable player,” Conte said. “He is a really good person, a positive person for the dressing room — a fantastic signing for the club, honestly.”
Lloris could return after the international break, with Spurs next in action on 3 April at Everton. By then, they could be seven points clear in fourth, thanks in large part to his deputy.
“A week ago I would have said no [to Spurs finishing in the top four],” says Teddy Sheringham.
“All of a sudden the results change around, you go back in a nice spot. It’ll be a big push before the end of the season, the likes of Brighton, Liverpool, Newcastle still want to get in there.
“It’s big money for all those clubs, it’s a big carrot to dangle – it’s going to be tough to get in there but why not?”
The Champions League is not just about money for Spurs, but at least partly about the future of Harry Kane, who Sheringham admits “has got to ask himself, ‘is he going to win things, or is he better off going somewhere else?”
The season will end trophyless regardless, but the top four looks attainable whether it is Lloris or Forster in goal – that has to make him Spurs’ best signing last summer.