DEAN Kiely believes Ben Foster has yet to fulfil his full potential as a goalkeeper – insisting the best years of his own playing career came after turning 30.
Albion’s No.1, who celebrated reaching that milestone yesterday, has earned widespread praise for his impressive performances between the sticks this season.
But goalkeeping coach Kiely, who won promotion with Charlton at 30, believes last season's Player of the Year's best form is yet to come.
“I still think Ben can get better and better,” said Kiely.
“He was 30 yesterday and for me the years between 30 and 40 were my golden era.
“It’s exciting times for both him and the football club.
“My golden era was at Charlton and it wasn’t a coincidence that my family was settled and I liked the club.
“I played my best football there for those reasons and I think Ben is in a similar situation here.
"Everything seems to fit. It seems to suit."
The 42-year-old, who made 664 league appearances during spells at eight different clubs, says Albion are reaping the rewards for managing Foster’s workload on the training pitch.
“Ben is a joy to work with,” added Kiely.
“I think he has improved us no end and people see that when he’s playing.
"But I have to say that, in and around the changing room from Monday to Friday, he’s a real good character and a top professional.
“He’s a top fella too, which obviously comes into it.
“It’s testament to him that the injuries and few little niggles he’s had have not stopped him playing, but we’ve had to manage him accordingly from Monday to Friday.
“We’ve given him that duty of care and I think we’re seeing the benefits of a fully-fit and functioning Ben Foster.
"We’ve given Ben a safe and secure environment for him to just go out and play his football.
"Ben's grasped that opportunity and has been immense for this football club."
Kiely, who grew up in Foster’s home town of Warwick, revealed their healthy relationship contributed to him joining the club on loan from Blues two years ago.
“I have a good relationship with Ben and we come from the same place," added the former Republic of Ireland international.
“I knew him before he came to the club but to get him here on loan a couple of seasons ago took a bit of twisting and turning.
“At first, I don’t think the football club thought they could get a keeper like that on loan.
“It was a coup to get him originally and once we got him through the door, for him to get ten clean sheets last season was great.
“It’s there for everyone to see and his performances on a Saturday have been unbelievable."