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Forster will not leave on the cheap, vows Lennon

NEIL LENNON is confident Fraser Forster, the England goalkeeper, will remain at Celtic until at least the end of the season and has dismissed claims he would agree to a "knockdown" fee to allow the player to leave Scotland to improve his chances of playing in the World Cup finals.

Neil Lennon insists Fraser Forster is happy at Celtic
Neil Lennon insists Fraser Forster is happy at Celtic

Transfer speculation around the 25-year-old increased after reports indicated Roy Hodgson, the England manager, believed the goalkeeper had to leave Scotland to press his claims for a place in his squad for Rio. "We have no offers for him and there is no apparent interest in him. I am sure there will be further on down the line but I am pretty confident we will have him for the remainder of the season," Lennon said ahead of today's match against St Johnstone in Perth..

The club, though, will demand a considerable fee for a player signed last year for £2m after a lengthy loan spell. Craig Gordon, then the Hearts goalkeeper, moved to Sunderland in 2007 for £9m, and although the Celtic manager conceded that the financial climate had altered, he added: "We will be looking for a significant figure for him because we value him very, very highly."

Asked about a reduced fee to ensure the player moves next month, Lennon said: "Absolutely not."

He added: "I'm not going to put a price on Fraser. However, we value him very highly. He's one of our big players and has been for the last few years. If bids do start coming in for him eventually, we will take them on their own merits."

Forster's reputation has soared on the back of excellent performances in the Champions League and his manager said: "Fraser has been a real success story in my time as manager. One of the best things we have achieved is getting a player into the England squad in such a specialised position. We just want him to keep going and concentrate on his club football here. Hopefully he will be on that plane to Brazil."

Forster, who won his first cap against Chile last month, is almost certainly contesting the third place in the squad with John Ruddy of Norwich City, with both men behind Ben Foster of West Bromwich Albion and Joe Hart of Manchester City. "I'm pretty confident he will be," said Lennon. "I don't think being at Celtic has hindered him - far from it. It's been the exact opposite. It has done wonders for his career."

Forster seemed restless in the summer when there were reports of a move to Benfica but the goalkeeper was "reassured" after talks with the manager and Peter Lawwell, the chief executive. "He is quite happy here, for the time being anyway," said Lennon of his player. "Inevitably it will be difficult to stop his progress, as it is with most players now. In the short-term future, he will be here."

Lennon is also confident he can recruit players next month. "We are endeavouring to bring in new bodies, obviously quality as well. We need an injection of that," he said.

Meanwhile, the ban on flags and banners at McDiarmid Park has been lifted after a Christmas Eve meeting between representatives of Celtic, St Johnstone and Police Scotland.

There had been confusion after reports that a Celtic security officer mistakenly contacted his opposite number at weekend opponents Inverness Caledonian Thistle, rather than at the Perth club, to discuss lifting the ban. However, St Johnstone revealed the authorities had agreed to rescind the earlier ban on flags and banners after receiving assurances from fans' groups that supporters would not set off flares or smoke bombs at the televised match.

On the park, Paddy Cregg can play for St Johnstone after appealing his sending-off against Hibernian. However, Murray Davidson and Chris Millar join Steven MacLean on the sidelines and Rory Fallon is banned. Celtic full-back Adam Matthews has recovered from a fever and Tom Rogic trained briefly on Tuesday.

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