Fraser Forster might just have taken a step closer to an England call-up after a solid display for Celtic against Benfica last night in front of Three Lions’ goalkeeping coach Ray Clemence, but he refuses to be fazed by the prospect.
There has been growing support north of the border for the Hexham-born keeper, who joined Celtic on a permanent deal from Newcastle in the summer after two loan spells at the Parkhead club, to be recognised at international level, if only as a back-up to current England number one Joe Hart.
The appearance in the Parkhead main stand of former England keeper Clemence for the opening Champions League Group G fixture against the Portuguese club, which ended in a goalless draw, confirmed Roy Hodgson’s recent claim that the genial Geordie was “very much on our radar”.
Forster was well protected by the Hoops defence but pulled off a couple of saves to keep his fourth clean sheet in five European ties this season.
The 24-year-old, though, was typically modest when asked about the presence of Clemence, saying: “I didn’t know he was here beforehand but I’ve just got to do my best for Celtic.
“It’s nice that he came up to watch, the Champions League is a great level but I’ve just got to do my best.
“As long as I keep improving I’ll be knocking at the door and if anyone picks me that’s great but we’ll wait and see.”
It was a decent if unspectacular start to the campaign for Celtic, who, as manager Neil Lennon admitted, lacked a cutting edge.
The former Celtic skipper was buoyed by his side’s defensive diligence in restricting the visitors to few chances, although there were faint appeals for a penalty in the first half when Forster thwarted Rodrigo with the Benfica striker through on goal.
The Celtic keeper said: “Credit to the back four really, they were brilliant all night and we’re all pretty happy with it. It was a good starting point and we hope to build on it.”
On the penalty shout, Forster said: “I knew I touched the ball to be fair but it’s one of those where it could maybe have went against us on a different night.
“But I think we deserved that and I thought we were unlucky not to get a penalty in the second half when James (Forrest) went down.”
Thomas Rogne, who came on as a second-half substitute for Mikael Lustig, was pleased enough with Celtic’s first group game in four years.
“When you don’t win it’s important not to lose,” said the Norwegian defender.
“I think it was a good performance. We would maybe have liked to test their goalkeeper more but defensively we done well and one point is a lot more than nothing so we should be happy with the performance.
“It was a good start for us.”
The Scottish champions were without Georgios Samaras, Anthony Stokes, Beram Kayal and Joe Ledley, while striker Gary Hooper had to start on the bench after picking up a knock in the defeat at St Johnstone at the weekend, before replacing Emilio Izaguirre in the second half as Lennon tried to find a goal.
Former Scunthorpe striker Hooper said: “I thought we dealt with Benfica really well considering they are a big team.
“We defended well and if we do that more and try to pick it up in the final third then I think we have a good chance of doing well in the rest of the games.”