FRASER Forster may be the first goalkeeper in history to compile a hugely impressive run of clean sheets only to find it actively hinders rather than helps his international chances.
Celtic's 25-year-old Englishman, the SPFL Premiership player of the month for January, will today attempt to keep his goal intact for the 12th successive league match, as he closes in on the record for Scottish top-flight games of 1155 minutes set by Aberdeen's Bobby Clark in 1970-71, but his efforts have generated as much ridicule as respect from south of the border.
Peter Shilton, capped 125 times by England, connected with a widely-held English viewpoint this week when he said that Forster was just "standing between the sticks for Celtic and having very little to do", while there is little in the way of hard evidence to suggest the run has done anything much to persuade England manager Roy Hodgson to include the player in his selection for the World Cup in Brazil.
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While the 6ft 7ins goalkeeper won a long-overdue first cap for his country last year in the friendly with Chile, Manchester City's Joe Hart is the nailed-on No 1 after his return to form at the Etihad and West Bromwich Albion's Ben Foster is a fair bet for back-up, having been both signed and persuaded out of international retirement by Hodgson himself.
This leaves Forster effectively battling it out with John Ruddy and Jack Butland for the No 3 role, and in neither case may it be a particularly fair fight. Ruddy works daily with Dave Watson, the England goalkeeper coach, in his day job at Norwich, while 20-year-old Butland is a chosen one who was fast-tracked into both the Team GB Olympic squad and England's Euro 2012 squad.
The picture will become clear a week on Thursday when Hodgson names his squad for next month's friendly with Denmark, but whatever Shilton has to say on the subject, Forster refuses to believe his World Cup ambitions cannot be satisfied while at Celtic Park.
"I've obviously read Peter Shilton's comments," said Forster. "But I got my first England cap while playing for Celtic and I've obviously had the opportunity here to play in the Champions League. I am convinced I can make it while playing for Celtic. You have to be. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it would be fantastic to be a part of a World Cup finals in Brazil.
"You can say I don't get tested that much up here. But when you look at international keepers compared to playing at a club like Celtic, it can be the same: long periods of not being involved but then having something important to do in the last minute - and having to do it well."
Five into three clearly doesn't go, however, but while the shoot-out between the sticks is presented as a cheerless fight to the death, Forster revealed that the protagonists can crack a smile about the situation.
"I think you can have a laugh," said Forster. "You don't get massively uptight about it. We all get on well. The others are good lads and hopefully they say the same about me. You obviously have banter. But I think everyone also understands how hard the position is. And how lonely it can be at times. We have a good laugh in training, but we also get the work done and try to egg each other on."
Ironically enough, as Shilton and co. pour scorn on Forster's record, the player himself isn't inclined to make too big a deal of it either. He regards it as an accolade for the team more than anything - a testament to a settled back four, and a hint that the club's zonal marking isn't as much of a problem as it appeared against Aberdeen last Saturday. He also acknowledges that the merest deflection or mis-kick could end up in his net any point.
"People keep telling me about the clean sheet record, but I don't pay too much attention to it," said Forster. "It's been a massive team thing. I remember Kris Commons clearing one off the line at a set-play, and Adam Matthews has done the same."
Forster's appearance - or non-appearance - in Brazil is not the only uncertainty he faces this summer. Neil Lennon rates him as "one of the best goalkeepers Celtic have ever had" and tacitly admits he will be hard to hold on to in August. "Summer feels a long way away," said Forster, a reported target for Benfica among others. "The manager has been complimentary in what he's said about me and I'll always thank him for putting his faith in me and bringing me on so much with the help of Woodsy [Steve Woods, Celtic's goalkeeper coach]. It's just a case of waiting and seeing what happens. You could say that about a lot of players at the club and you could say that about the manager himself."
With David Marshall in fine form at Cardiff and Allan McGregor impressing at Hull City, that hoary old line about Scottish goalkeepers has never been so discredited. It would be unfair indeed if an Englishman playing in Scotland became an unwitting victim of a variation of precisely that same prejudice this summer.