CHRIS SUTTON has identified the failure of luring Fraser Forster back to Celtic in the summer as playing a massive role in the club’s slump.

The six times-capped England international keeper was a massive influence on the team last season during his loan switch from Southampton.

Forster agreed a campaign-long deal in August 2019 and Neil Lennon was safe in the knowledge he had the towering shotstopper and Craig Gordon looking after the club’s interests at the back.

However, the Hoops hierarchy couldn’t agree a second temporary transfer with fans’ favourite Forster who opted to remain at the south coast outfit and fight Alex McCarthy for the first-team place. He has yet to make an appearance in the top side this term.

Gordon, meanwhile, knocked back a contract extension to rejoin Hearts and will face his old Parkhead mates in the delayed Scottish Cup Final at Hampden on December 20.

Former striker Sutton, now a top media pundit, has emphasised he has not been impressed by Vasilis Barkas, who arrived on a record transfer from AEK Athens in the summer, or his understudy Scott Bain, as CQN reported yesterday.

The one-time £6million Martin O’Neill signing has pinpointed the goalkeeping position as the one that has really cost the nine-in-a-row champions as they have stumbled out of the Champions League, the Europa League and the Betfred League Cup inside three months of a season that still promises so much.

Reflecting on the 4-2 loss to AC Milan in the San Sito on Thursday, Sutton, speaking to the Daily Record, said: “Celtic did have some nice passages of play in the game. Tom Rogic has wonderful feet and scored a sublime goal, Odsonne Edouard’s finish was delightful.

“So was Ryan Christie’s pass to set him up and he was unlucky with a brilliant free-kick at 3-2 which was saved superbly by Milan keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma.

“Which brings me to Vasilis Barkas. While the AC No.1 was flying across his goal to deny Christie, the Greek was standing as you would in bus shelter waiting for the No.63 as Milan’s free-kick went past him.

“It was criminal. I’m not a goalkeeper, but I do know that you organise a wall and when you do, that covers one side of the goal and you cover the other. You do not get beaten on your side.

“Barkas built a wall and then hid behind it. It was appalling stuff. He just doesn’t make saves. If he has done since he’s signed, I’ve missed them. Not much return on £5million there and Scott Bain isn’t the answer.”

Sutton added: “Missing out on Fraser Forster has been key to the season. The big Geordie came up with the big moments. He made the vital stops. That gave the backline a confidence which they don’t have this season. It’s no coincidence the backline is brittle with no reassurance at their backs.

“Celtic made the last 32 of the Europa League last season when Forster was making outrageous saves against Lazio. Without him, they are out of the competition.

“Forster single-handedly won the Betfred Cup Final for the first trophy last season with his saves against Rangers at Hampden. Without him, they were dumped out by County and the silverware is gone.

“Those events are no coincidence. I’ve heard people say that Celtic might be trying to get him back, but how is that going to happen? He’s warming a bench at Southampton, yet you could argue he’s closer to the first-team now than he was in June.

“If Celtic couldn’t make a deal happen then, how can they now? Especially given £5million was frittered away on his replacement.”

Neil Lennon will have to address his No.1 problem as he prepares for tomorrow’s Premiership visit of St Johnstone to the east end of Glasgow.

It’s the kick-off to seven vitally important games between now and the end of the campaign.

The Lille Euro tie on Thursday is meaningless as far as qualification is concerned, but it is another 90 minutes for the manager to work on solutions before the season runs away from him and the club.

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