In July, it was feared Southampton goalkeeper Fraser Forster may miss the whole of this season with a broken kneecap sustained against Burnley in March. However, that wasn’t the case and the England international returned in January - making a huge impact on his side's results.
Ronald Koeman’s team endured a rough patch prior to their keeper's return, having lost eight of their last 10 games, conceding 19 goals as Maarten Stekelenburg filled the vacant position. When Forster made a comeback from injury, Southampton’s season took a vital turn, picking up ten points in their four games with the 27-year-old between the sticks, not conceding a single goal in the process.
With three wins and a draw, Koeman’s side could become outside favourites for a Europa League spot, which looked far from a reality four games ago.
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The Saints’ most recent fixture came against title chasers Arsenal on Tuesday, where a star-stunning performance from Forster earned him a well-deserved Man of the Match award as the game ended all square at 0-0.
Having made 10 crucial saves in his stellar display, Southampton held on and snatched a point at the Emirates whilst dampening their opponent’s chances of clinching their first league title since 2004.
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When Saints secured the signature of the Hexham-born ‘keeper from Celtic in the summer of 2014, there was no doubt he would flourish in England’s top flight. Keeping 16 clean sheets last season, fans were in high spirits over their purchase and he was heavily missed during his long-term absence which was proven by the 24 goals they conceded.
Not only can the Saints goalkeeper continue to showcase his ability and continue to drive Southampton up the table, but also to pip Joe Hart for the number one jersey when England take to the big stage in France for the European Championships.
Having spent most of his international career watching on from the bench, maybe this year could see Forster outshine his team-mate and gain more game time for his country if his prolific form continues.
Had he avoided such a lengthy spell on the treatment table, there’s no doubt the ‘keeper could have established himself as one of the stand-out shot-stoppers of the season adding to the fact the Saints could well have found themselves higher up the league standings.
Despite only featuring four times this season, the England ‘keeper, remarkably, still has more clean sheets than the likes of Thibaut Courtois and Costel Pantilimon, proving he has hit the ground running since his return.
The Saints play host to West Ham at the weekend, a team who sit a single place above them in sixth with only five points separating the two. Given the recent form of Forster, the Hammers will no doubt find it a hefty challenge to stick the ball past him on Saturday.
Despite his recent return, Southampton will inevitably face the issue of keeping their star man fit for the remainder of the season if they want to fulfill their aspirations of clinching a European spot.