RETURNING goalkeeper Fraser Forster admitted the last few years had been "tough" after losing his spot in the Saints first team, insisting: "It’s a club I love a lot."

The 32-year-old made his first appearance for the club in 612 days on Monday night, stepping in for Alex McCarthy after the in-form stopper tested positive for COVID-19.

It was also the first time in more than three years Forster had appeared for Saints at St Mary's and it proved to be a memorable return, keeping a clean sheet as the hosts saw off champions Liverpool.

Having been a regular in the side during his first three seasons at the club following a £10million move from Celtic, Forster lost his place to McCarthy in December 2017 following a 5-2 loss at Tottenham Hotspur.

The Hexham-born star then struggled to even make the bench the following season, with Angus Gunn brought in to compete with McCarthy.

A loan move back to Celtic was then on the cards in the summer of 2019, before Forster returned at the start of this season to battle for his place again under Ralph Hasenhuttl.

Until Monday, he had been restricted to a spot among the substitutes, but he has now finally added to his 125 Saints appearances, more than 18 months after his last.

"It’s been a strange few years, it’s been a tough few years," Forster told the Daily Echo.

"Obviously it’s a club I love a lot. I had some fantastic times here in the past and I’ve always been keen to come back and try and play here.

"That’s all I wanted to do in the summer. I wanted to come back and give it a go and everyone’s been fantastic with me since I’ve been back.

"But obviously the team has been doing well and Al’s been doing well so it’s just important I can help the team and the club in any way I can.

"I train hard, work hard, try and help the team any way I can when I’m not playing. Obviously the team has had a fantastic start to the season and it’s just one of them.

"You’ve got to do what you can to help the club whilst you’re here and just take it week by week really.

"You never know what’s going to happen – injuries happen and with COVID people can be ruled out, so you’ve just got to be ready for when you do play."

Boss Hasenhuttl has made a point in recent weeks of praising the improvement shown by Forster in training.

Asked if he feels he has developed as a goalkeeper since coming back to Saints last summer, Forster said: "I think the manager’s way of playing is different to how I’ve played before in the past.

"He obviously wants the goalkeepers to play a bit higher and sweep up behind the back four.

"It’s stuff I’ve worked on and I always want to keep improving, keep learning and the manager has been fantastic with me.

"It was just one of those where you’ve got to wait your time for any opportunities and that’s the main thing.

"It was nice to get back out there and play at St Mary’s again and then obviously nice to keep the clean sheet."

Asked if he was nervous when discovering he would be making his first Saints appearance in such a long time, Forster added: "Not really nerves, I think it’s just general rustiness.

"I’ve obviously not played a 90 minutes in 10 months, so a little bit rusty but I grew into the game and obviously glad to contribute in the ways I did."