AS SCOTTISH football followers – of a Celtic persuasion and otherwise – queued up to take pot-shots at the club for their defeat in Kazakhstan, James Forrest volunteered yesterday to feature as a villain in any of the blame games.
A week after impressing in a memorable England v Scotland friendly at Wembley, Forrest’s stock fell again when he failed to convert a point-blank header during the 2-0 Champions League play-off defeat by Shakhter Karagandy.
He was not the only Celtic player to stand accused of failing to deliver on a night that stood to make or break the club’s season, but it was a mark of the 22-year-old winger’s maturity that he asked not to be spared of criticism.
Part of his willingness to take flak seemed to emanate from his confidence in Celtic overturning the deficit in next Wednesday’s return leg at Parkhead.
“We had a lot of chances in the first half and we regret now not finishing any of them,” said Forrest.
“I had a good chance and I should have done better. I wouldn’t say it was a good save from him [Shakhter goalkeeper Aleksandr Mokin]. I’d say it was a bad miss.
“But once we get them back to Celtic Park I am sure it will be different. We are disappointed about last night but we are already buzzing about next week.
“The tie is certainly not over,” he added. “It is only half-time, basically. But we know we have to score a few at Celtic Park.”
Forrest again spoke with maturity as he echoed his team-mate Charlie Mulgrew’s assertion that Celtic should not seek refuge in excuses for what was a humiliating result.
“We have a very big game next week and we have to pick ourselves up for that. We will be on our own pitch, but I won’t use the fact last night’s game was on artificial grass as an excuse for the result,” he said.
“The surface was good, and we have played on artificial pitches a few times now, so that had nothing to do with what happened.”
Shakhter, who were eliminated from Europa League qualifying two seasons ago when they followed a 2-1 home victory over St Patrick’s Athletic with a 2-0 defeat in Dublin, celebrated wildly the greatest result in the history of Kazakh club football on Tuesday night.
No club from the oil-rich Asian country’s Premier League, formed in 1992, has yet reached the group stages of the Champions League and the chairman of their league, Mikael Gurman, accused Celtic of lacking the desire of the hosts at the Astana Arena.
“The Scots came and expected to win the game – they didn’t even think about the possibility of a draw,” said Gurman.
“But they paid the price for thinking like that and they completely misjudged the situation.
“I believed in victory and said before the game Celtic were a team that could be beaten. Our players showed more desire to win.
“Shakhter tactically outplayed their opponents, defended well and attacked at the right moments. I thought they could have won 3-0 actually, but 2-0 is good enough.
“They are gaining experience with every game in Europe and have nothing to fear in Scotland.”
Shakhter’s Russian coach, Viktor Kumykov, was a little more circumspect as he assessed the state of the tie, saying: “We still believe Celtic have a chance to qualify.
“We believe the game in Glasgow will be even more difficult because Celtic are a more experienced team. We still have a chance, a little bit more of a chance than before the first game.
“You need to play in a very disciplined and organised way and I think we did that.”