‘Mir­a­cle’ save was mo­ment I re­alised how much I had missed those huge Euro nights

Scottish Daily Mail - - Football - by John McGarry

MAYBE one day, when he’s old and grey, Danilo Cataldi will re­late the story of a dank night in Glas­gow’s east end.

The pass­ing of time is un­likely to grant the Ital­ian a greater un­der­stand­ing of how ex­actly it all ended with his head in his hands and his jaw gap­ing in as­ton­ish­ment.

Dubbed the ‘Mir­a­cle of ex­pired time’ by La Gazzetta dello Sport, Fraser Forster’s block to deny the Lazio sub­sti­tute’s ham­mer of a vol­ley in the 94th minute stunned Celtic Park.

The mo­ment was sig­nif­i­cant in many re­spects. Not only did it pre­serve the three points Neil Len­non’s side were on course for, thanks to Christophe­r Jul­lien’s late header to make it 2-1 against the Ital­ians last month, it reaf­firmed Forster as a goal­keeper of ex­tra­or­di­nary tal­ent.

The for­got­ten man of Southamp­ton af­ter play­ing just one first-team game in 20 months, that one flash of bril­liance came to rep­re­sent as much to him as any win­ners’ medal or in­ter­na­tional cap he had ac­crued up un­til that point.

‘For me, given the cir­cum­stances and the tim­ing in the game, it was pretty much the last kick of the ball — ev­ery­thing around it made it a big­ger save than it was,’ re­flected Forster.

‘That mo­ment is prob­a­bly up there with the best in my ca­reer. It was an ac­tual mo­ment where you are like: “That’s why you play foot­ball”. That was prob­a­bly the first mo­ment when I was like: “That’s why I’m here. That’s what I’ve missed”.

‘It’s like when a striker is asked how it feels to score. You don’t get that feeling in any other as­pect of life. To have that feeling back was some­thing very spe­cial.

‘Prob­a­bly, if I could pick one feeling out of my whole ca­reer, that would be the mo­ment I ap­pre­ci­ate the most.’

He must have dreamed of it a thou­sand times while strug­gling for rel­e­vance lat­terly at St Mary’s. For it to be­come re­al­ity just weeks af­ter driv­ing back to Glas­gow proved highly emo­tional.

‘What a feeling,’ he smiled. ‘Those Euro­pean nights are some­thing spe­cial. Hard to put into words, re­ally.

‘Last year is the first year that I have ever had like that in foot­ball. I didn’t take it for granted but when you go from play­ing to not play­ing, you don’t have a game to look for­ward to.

‘It is great to have that feeling back and that drive. I am mak­ing the most of it and en­joy­ing ev­ery minute.’

A lit­tle love and ap­pre­ci­a­tion can go a long way. Back un­der the stew­ard­ship of a man­ager who rates him and a coach who gets the best out of him in Ste­vie Woods, the re­turn to Celtic has been hugely ful­fill­ing.

‘I don’t know what it is about the place,’ pon­dered the keeper. ‘There are a lot of good peo­ple at the club. The man­ager has been bril­liant with me and I am work­ing with a great goal­keep­ing coach in Ste­vie Woods.

‘Ste­vie un­der­stands play­ers. His ses­sions are great but I think he un­der­stands the men­tal side of the game, too.

‘He knows what makes each player tick. He’s worked with some in­cred­i­ble keep­ers dur­ing his time here.

‘He has a fan­tas­tic record. He took me from a League One keeper and turned me into an Eng­land in­ter­na­tional.

‘I am just happy at the mo­ment. I am en­joy­ing my foot­ball again.’

The danger Rangers pose to Celtic’s hopes of win­ning a ninth suc­ces­sive ti­tle is another stim­u­lus. A fac­tor ab­sent from the English­man’s last two sea­sons in a

Celtic jersey dur­ing his first spell at the club, the edge has re­cently re­turned to do­mes­tic af­fairs.

‘It is one of the big things up here: the de­mand on you — the pres­sure to win,’ said Forster.

‘You do miss that when you go down south be­cause it is a dif­fer­ent team, a dif­fer­ent league and the tar­gets are dif­fer­ent.

‘Here you are ex­pected to win ev­ery game and you need to do that if you want to win tro­phies and the league. It is a great pres­sure that makes you strive to be bet­ter and work hard.’

Con­trary to some sug­ges­tions, it’s a stress he will gladly live with un­til May at the ear­li­est.

Shoot­ing down any no­tion that Southamp­ton could re­call him in Jan­uary, the keeper’s com­mu­ni­ca­tion with his par­ent club since Au­gust was telling.

‘It’s a sea­son-long loan and I’ll be here un­til the end of the sea­son,’ he said ‘I’ve not spo­ken to any­one (at Southamp­ton) since I came up here. I’m a Celtic player for the year and that’s fine.’

With a highly-lu­cra­tive con­tract run­ning un­til 2020 on the south coast, more fac­tors will de­cide Forster’s long-term fu­ture than both his and Celtic’s de­sire to make his trans­fer per­ma­nent.

‘I want to make the most of my time,’ he said. ‘I had a tough year last year and the main thing was to get back to en­joy­ing foot­ball.’

One box ticked, the prospect of re­viv­ing his Eng­land ca­reer is back in his think­ing.

‘Yeah I would love to get back in there,’ he said. ‘But it’s out of my hands. I just need to play as well as I can and force some­one else into mak­ing a de­ci­sion.’

Liv­ingston at Celtic Park on Satur­day is a long way from Lazio in the Sta­dio Olimpico but the im­por­tance of the oc­ca­sion can­not be un­der­stated.

With the Premier­ship look­ing like go­ing the dis­tance, Len­non’s men can ill-af­ford a re­peat of the lax dis­play that con­trib­uted to a 2-0 de­feat to Gary Holt’s men in West Loth­ian last month.

‘It was a dis­ap­point­ing per­for­mance and re­sult,’ said Forster. ‘But we have had a good re­ac­tion in the last month.’

Fraser Forster was pro­mot­ing the sec­ond Celtic FC Fes­ti­val at Glas­gow’s SEC from July 24 to 26, 2020. Tick­ets are avail­able from celticfcfe­s­ti­val.com Stu­pen­dous feat: Forster thwarts Cataldi to en­sure an epic vic­tory over Lazio

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