What has happened to Fraser Forster?
Fraser Forster is costing Southampton points and his errors can’t keep going unnoticed, writes Ben Snowball…
The imposter plodded across to his right, belatedly flopping as Glenn Murray's header evaded his outstretched hand. As he untangled himself from the net, a familiar question was being asked again: what has happened to Fraser Forster?
The once-impressive stopper saw his error-o-meter tick over another digit on Sunday, gifting Brighton a 1-1 draw with Southampton. After his St Mary's adventure began with a flourish - and many tipped him to displace Joe Hart for England - Forster is now locked in a battle with Wayne Hennessey to be the Premier League's most underwhelming number one.
Southampton may have an attack that possesses the creativity of an empty canvas, but they could still be sitting one point behind fourth-placed Chelsea had Forster not carried his indifferent form into 2017-18. Mistakes against Manchester United, Newcastle and now Brighton have cost a potential five points, while he was also at fault in the 3-2 win over West Ham. There is one small caveat - his penalty save in the 2-1 defeat at Stoke City - but it's largely been a campaign to forget for the 29-year-old.
Fraser Forster concedes v NewcastleGetty Images
Sure, every team can play the ‘points game’ – tallying up the near-misses and mistakes that halted their title challenge in autumn. But with Southampton it goes further than simple ifs, buts and maybes. The common factor in the disturbing amount of goals they have conceded is Fraser Forster.
|Date||Result||Forster talking point||Potential dropped points|
|19.08.2017||Southampton 3-2 West Ham||Palms header into path of Javier Hernandez, who scores||0|
|23.09.2017||Southampton 0-1 Manchester United||Palms header into path of Romelu Lukaku, who scores||1|
|15.10.2017||Southampton 2-2 Newcastle||1. Flounders on floor as Isaac Hayden scores from outside the penalty area; 2. Spills Ayoze Perez's shot, then concedes from tight angle on follow-up||2|
|29.10.2017||Brighton 1-1 Southampton||Slow to react as Murray's header creeps in||2|
And it makes little sense. Forster used to be an outstanding shot-stopper – arguably among the top three in the division with David De Gea and Hugo Lloris. While his kicking and aerial command was often flawed, you could always rely on him to perform a goalkeeper’s main duty: stopping the ball.
But his rare talent has vanished, leaving a shell of a goalkeeper with no discernible qualities except sheer size. Tame efforts now squirm past him or are pushed back into dangerous areas and duly converted. And it leaves Saints boss Mauricio Pellegrino with an unavoidable decision. Forster has to be dropped.
He was shielded from criticism last season by Manchester City’s goalkeeper merry-go-round, with Claudio Bravo the scapegoat of choice and Joe Hart chipping in on the international stage. But his error stream is no longer going unnoticed – and he’s chosen the worst possible time.
Romelu Lukaku of Manchester United scores his sides first goal past Fraser Forster of Southampton during the Premier League match between Southampton and Manchester United at St Mary's Stadium on September 23, 2017 in Southampton, England.Getty Images
Gareth Southgate supposedly has a five-into-three conundrum for his Russia 2018 goalkeeper spots: Hart, Jack Butland, Jordan Pickford, Tom Heaton and Forster all vying for a spot on the plane. Forster is making it a far easier decision. You can’t have a stopper in your ranks that: a) can’t save the ball, and b) is suffering a confidence crisis.
It’s the peril of being a goalkeeper. Once you’ve been branded ‘error prone’, a downward path is almost inevitable. Strikers can dismiss goal droughts with a few game-winning performances; it takes much more than clean sheets for people to forgive the gaffes of a shot-stopper.
Right now, Forster needs time away from the first team. Southampton don’t score enough goals – just nine this season in 10 games – to carry a passenger, particularly one between the posts. It’s just a shame that a career that promised so much has descended into ridicule. His standing as a legitimate Premier League goalkeeper and international option can only be a couple of errors from disappearing completely.