FRASER Forster never came close to using the back-up plan he made as an academy youngster during ten long months out injured.

The Saints goalkeeper has made a miraculous return from the ruptured patellar tendon that he suffered last season, keeping four successive clean sheets.

In his latest performance he stole the headlines, shutting out a barrage of shots from Arsenal with a series of world class saves.

It was never in doubt that he would return, with the Saints medical staff meticulously planning each stage of his recovery, which he completed in the 2-0 win over Watford on 13 January.

So thoroughly thought out was his comeback that Forster admits it felt like he’d never been away and revealed that he “never really gets nervous”, even when faced with an onslaught from Mesut Ozil and co in Tuesday night's 0-0 draw.

But, had the 27-year-old never made it back onto the football pitch, he still has the contingency plan that he created as a Newcastle academy player to fall back on.

The lad from Northumberland moved from Wallsend Boys Club, his boyhood team, in 2005 to St James’ Park as a fresh-faced 16-year-old.

However, unlike many who would have thrown all their eggs into becoming a football superstar, Forster was still aware that dreams of playing professional football can be very fragile.

“I felt more once I was in football it was important to do my A-levels as a scholar,” the towering 6ft7in stopper explained. “To go back to school one day a week and do my A-levels.

“I just felt it was important. In an academy the ratio of players who make it and those who don’t is so high it’s important to have a back-up plan really. For me that was the main decision as to why I stuck at doing it.”

In the eventuality that football wasn’t the career path that he was to follow Forster had a particular subject that he was fond of.

“I really enjoyed economics,” he said. “I would have probably gone to university and done economics.”

Forster was privately educated at the Royal Grammar School in Newcastle and could have found himself in an academic field, but, like many kids, was in love with the beautiful game.

His family were fully behind his football dream.

“They were fully behind me playing football,” he said. “They knew how much I loved it. It was just a case of doing my A-levels as back-up really.

“In the long term it’s a great thing to have and I’m glad that I’ve done them. For me, I couldn’t have had a more supportive family.

“They took me to football here, there and everywhere. They were always at my games and I had their full backing. It was more my decision to stay and do my A-levels. It was just the right thing to do.”

Forster grew up watching former Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, although was very a much a Geordie and supported Newcastle.

And, though his idol was a Schmeichel, he didn’t fully channel his energies into pulling on the goalie gloves straight away.

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Daily Echo: WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 28:  Fraser Forster of Southampton looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Southampton at The Hawthorns on February 28, 2015 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffi

“The big one for me was Peter Schmeichel when I was growing up,” he said. “Being a Newcastle fan I was a big fan of Shay Given and Steve Harper.

“I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to train with them for a few seasons and work with them.

“I still speak to them now and I’m pretty close to them. Schmeichel was the main one as a kid and, as I got older, Shay and Steve Harper.”

He added: “Everything about him (Schmeichel). He was a presence within the goal. He really filled the goal.

“His shot stopping was second-to-none, he was a top, top keeper and at the time he was probably one of the best in the world.”

The patellar tendon injury that Forster suffered against Burnley in March last term isn’t the knee ligament-type injury that footballers are prone to.

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Daily Echo:

ABOVE: Forster is tended to by medical staff after his injury against Burnley

But it was a challenge that the physiotherapists at St Mary’s were sure they could manage and bring the £10m stopper, who was bought from Celtic in the summer of 2014, back even stronger than before.

“It is very common in athletics, in power-based or explosive sports where you do a lot of jumping or things like that. More that side of things,” Forster explains.

He continued: “The patellar is basically the thing that holds your kneecap in place and allows you to bend your knee.

“When it ruptures you can’t hold up the leg beneath the knee. It is an uncommon injury really for footballers.

“It was a new opportunity for the physios and one they really embraced. They saw the opportunity and the possibility of me coming back stronger than before.”

It looked innocuous at the time as Forster went to clear the ball early in the game at St Mary’s as Burnley’s Sam Vokes put him under pressure, but it turned out to be very serious indeed.

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Daily Echo:

ABOVE: Forster is injured against Burnley.

The Echo reported at the time that his “left foot seemed to stick in the ground and horribly twist his knee”.

Forster recalled: “The hardest was the three days waiting to have surgery because once you have surgery that is mentally the big thing.

“You are healing and you are starting your recovery so it was obviously very fortunate to have a great surgeon.

“I just had the surgery in London. I went home after the game in a leg brace and then the first few months are a test. You just need to let nature do its thing and heal.

“That’s probably the hardest because you have so much time on your hands. Naturally you want to work as hard as you can straight away.

“You just need to let nature do its thing and it will heal itself. After that you just break it up into chunks.

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Recovery day today after a couple of hard days pitch and gym work. @recoverypump #WeMarchOn #football #recovery #comeback

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“You have little goals you are aiming at and you don’t look beyond that month or six-week chunk that you are working towards.

“For me it was a case of coming off the crutches and being able to walk properly again, to walk up and down stairs. Early doors it was just stuff like that.”

Forster revealed some of the more squeamish details of his surgery that took place in a London hospital by top surgeon Andy Williams, who specialises in knee surgery on professional sports people.

“They just suture the tendon back together and take one of your hamstrings, part of your groin muscle, drill through your kneecap and anchor it round,” he said.

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Another good power session in the gym today 💪🏻. #saintsfc #wemarchon 🔴⚪️🔴⚪️🔴

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“It’s complicated surgery, when I saw Andy Williams he is the top, top surgeon and he has done a fantastic job.”

As Ronald Koeman’s side prepared for the Watford match last month, Maarten Stekelenburg picked up an injury in training and it became clear that Forster would make his long-awaited return.

At that point, Saints had won just once in ten games in all competitions, but Forster was ready to make his impact. Was he nervous?

“Not at all to be fair,” he said. “For me I felt I’d never not been there. I’m not one to get nervous or feel the pressure.

“When you’ve been out for so long you come back with a real hunger, you just want to get out and enjoy playing football again. That’s just the way I am going play and keep playing it.

He added: “I found out the day before the game that I was going to play. For me that was no problem really.

“I think for all the medical staff and everyone at the club we’d seen the rehab that I’d done. Physically there were no real concerns about playing a game. I could’ve probably played previously to that.

“For me I wasn’t worried about going back in. I was just delighted to be back involved. After working so hard it was nice to get on the pitch.”

The Hexham-born goalkeeper hasn’t looked back and is now aiming for a fifth successive clean sheet against West Ham tomorrow at St Mary’s.