It is fair to say Ben Foster arrived at Birmingham City with some big gloves to fill. Few players can have had such a vital single-season impact with a club than Joe Hart did at St Andrew's last year, the on-loan goalkeeper proving the keystone to City's highest league finish in 51 years.
Such was Hart's form that he returned to Manchester as City's – and England's – No1. Foster has now trodden the same path down the M6 in search of first-team football, moving from Manchester United for a fee that could rise to £6m. He marked his home debut with several superb saves, the best of which came from Morten Gamst Pedersen's thumping penalty. The comparisons are inevitable.
"Joe did fantastic last season and you've seen how well he's done," said Foster, whose save from the spot was described by Alex McLeish as one of the best he had seen. "That's what it's about, getting out and playing first-team football. He was frustrated at City, not playing, and had the chance to go out and showed what he can do. That's what I need to do.
"The last few years have been a bit disappointing, I've not been playing. Now it's my chance and I'm just happy to be out playing football. When you've got something to look forward to at the end of the week it's good for me, I like it.
"You're buzzing, you're going to be involved, you're an important part of the team – and I enjoy that. When you've got nothing to train for at the end of the week it's a bit disheartening. I'm just really enjoying my football, they're a great set of lads and I've settled in really well."
That much was obvious. Last season Birmingham's success was built on a defensive unit that conceded just 13 goals at home – fewer than the champions Chelsea. It bodes well for City that, as McLeish admitted: "Ben slotted in as if Joe never went away."
Foster's performance certainly left Sam Allardyce frustrated. The Blackburn Rovers manager felt his side dominated the game and, having taken the lead through Steven Nzonzi's header minutes after Pedersen's penalty miss, should have travelled back to the north-west with at least a point. Craig Gardner struck twice for Birmingham – first turning home James McFadden's cushioned volley across goal and then bouncing a 25-yard drive past Paul Robinson for the second – to maintain an unbeaten home league record that stretches back to October, but Allardyce was in no doubt as to the identity of the chief thorn in Rovers' side.
"Foster was absolutely outstanding, it was as good a goalkeeping performance as you'll see in the Premier League all season," Allardyce said. "Birmingham have won this game today because of the saves he's pulled off. That's what good goalkeepers do for you, good goalkeepers win you points. He certainly won them three points today. He proved his outstanding goalkeeping ability on more than one occasion."
Both sides were guilty of going too long, too often in the first half, with the temptation presented by the 6ft 8in Nikola Zigic making his home debut in attack too much to resist for Birmingham. The second period was all together more rambunctious affair, with three goals, the missed penalty, Nikola Kalinic hitting a post with a free header and Foster standing firm under the Blackburn onslaught. Saves from Kalinic and Nzonzi, in particular, caught the eye, while his command of the six-yard box was almost flawless.
"Some goalkeepers are going to have nightmares against this team this season," Foster said. "You've got 6ft 6in guys in there. You saw the end of the first half I was catching balls from Paul Robinson on my goal line and it's frightening."
For Rovers it was a familiar story, occasional defensive lapses coupled with a failure to take chances costing them dear. Allardyce was pessimistic about improving his striking options in the short term, though admitted he was running the rule over several targets.
"The sad thing is that winning this game was very, very important to our confidence as an away side in the Premier League and we've gone and let it slip," the Rovers manager said. "It would've given us four wins on the trot, including last season. That breeds a lot of confidence in terms of starting this season as we finished the last. Now we've put ourselves back to square one."
Man of the match Ben Foster (Birmingham City)
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