James Forrest accepts criticism but refutes charges of Celtic complacency
CELTIC winger James Forrest has accepted manager Neil Lennon’s stinging criticism of the Scottish champions’ performance in their first defeat of the season at the weekend but has denied he and his team-mates were guilty of being distracted by their imminent Champions League group stage campaign.
Lennon was infuriated by Celtic’s 2-1 loss to previously winless St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park on Saturday, a result which saw the SPL title holders slip to fifth place in the table after dropping seven points in their first five matches.
It is in sharp contrast to Celtic’s European form so far, with four wins out of four in the Champions League qualifiers against HJK Helsinki and Helsingborgs taking the club back into the group phase of the elite tournament for the first time since 2008.
They kick off their Group G fixtures against Portuguese league leaders Benfica at Celtic Park on Wednesday night, with Lennon threatening to drop some of the players who under-performed in Perth.
Forrest was among those who incurred Lennon’s displeasure, the 21-year-old Scotland winger described as “poor” by the manager who questioned his team’s attitude and suggested they had “half an eye” on the Benfica assignment. “The performance was totally unacceptable. The attitude wasn’t good enough,” added Lennon.
While admitting that Celtic had been guilty of a sub-standard display on Saturday, Forrest insists they were focused on the task in hand and that they will be ready to bounce back with a positive performance on Wednesday.
“It’s nothing to do with complacency, the boys had been flying in training in the build-up to the St Johnstone game,” said Forrest. “We were all looking forward to the game but it just didn’t happen.
“I don’t know what happened. We went there, played on a good pitch and it just didn’t go for us. I can’t put my finger on it. Wednesday night wasn’t in our minds, it was just a bad result. Nobody was thinking about Benfica, it was about St Johnstone and we need to do better in the league.
“The manager let us know what he thought, all the lads know it wasn’t good enough. Every one of the lads knew that. The gaffer told us a few things and we can’t argue with them. Sometimes he will tell individual players what he thinks but this time it was more of a collective thing. We have to hold our hands up to not playing well and need to turn it around.
“We just need to get back on track now, kick on and get results. There are no excuses. The boys have been feeling good so there’s nothing we can use as an excuse. The boys just need to turn it around now.
“No matter what game is next, after a defeat you want to rectify it. We want to show we’re better than we were on Saturday. Big teams need to play well in every competition they’re in and we have not been doing that.”
Forrest disputed the theory that Celtic could be affected, even if only sub-consciously, by the absence of Rangers as title challengers this season and be more vulnerable to results like the one sustained in Perth.
“The opposition have not changed, it’s the same as the last few seasons, everyone wants to beat Celtic,” added Forrest. “We get that everywhere we go so it’s up to us to raise our game and deal with it. The league is the most important thing for us so we need to focus on that. We know we need to turn it around and start getting points in the league.”
Forrest is nonetheless relishing the prospect of his Champions League group stage debut at a packed Celtic Park on Wednesday night.
“You grow up watching the Champions League and want to play in it,” he said. “I have watched the big European games before as a fan so I’m buzzing about being involved.
“It’s the top competition in Europe so if I get to play in it then I’d be delighted. But we will have to play a lot better than we did against St Johnstone. I watched Benfica in the Champions League last season, they had a couple of draws against Manchester United, so they are a top team.”
Celtic will assess a hamstring strain picked up by captain Scott Brown on Saturday, while Welsh midfielder Joe Ledley is unlikely to be fit enough to return against Benfica. With Greek striker Georgios Samaras already ruled out, there may be a role for Venezuelan striker Nicolas ‘Miku’ Fedor who had a quiet debut for Celtic at McDiarmid Park.
“Miku was really sharp in training on Friday and with the more games he gets, he’ll get even better for us,” said Forrest. “He’s really comfortable on the ball and I think he’ll have a good partnership with the guys here. He’s played at a high level, in La Liga so he’ll know what it’s all about.”
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 19 C
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Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
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