James Forrest justifies selection with man-of-the-match award

James Forrest, left, is fouled by Aberdeen defender Anthony O'Connor inside the penalty area. Picture: SNS
James Forrest, left, is fouled by Aberdeen defender Anthony O'Connor inside the penalty area. Picture: SNS
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Having been named among the substitutes for Wednesday’s defeat against Barcelona, there was no certainty James Forrest would start against Aberdeen in Sunday’s Betfred Cup final. In the end, the speedy winger got the nod ahead of Callum McGregor and produced a man-of-the-match winning performance as Celtic lifted the trophy.

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Several Celtic players have improved under Brendan Rodgers, but none more so than Forrest, who netted the second goal against Aberdeen and drew the challenge from Anthony O’Connor which resulted in a penalty being awarded, allowing Moussa Dembele to wrap the game up. Celtic led for 74 of the 90 minutes after Tom Rogic netted early with a terrific left-footed strike.

One of the biggest criticisms of Forrest has been his perceived lack of final ball. That could not have looked further from the truth when he picked up the ball in the centre of the park on 37 minutes and drove right at the heart of the Aberdeen defence.

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When O’Connor and Ash Taylor decided to back off rather than engage the threat, Forrest showed no hesitation in going for goal; firing into the opposite bottom corner from 16 yards which put Celtic firmly in the driving seat.

It was the high point of an electric performance full of purpose. Starting on the left wing with Patrick Roberts on the opposite flank, he was given license to drive inside, giving Celtic multiple options in central areas and overwhelming the Dons in the final third.

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The game was finished as a contest when Forrest showed his determination to nip in front of O’Connor as the centre-back looked to go to ground. The Aberdeen stopper was rightly criticised for the rash challenge, which effectively ended his side’s hopes of lifting the cup, but few players on the park other than Forrest would have had the quickness to get there before him.

As Stephen Craigan said on BT Sport after the match, Celtic did not miss the threat of Scott Sinclair. The Englishman, who’s netted 10 goals from midfield already this season, was absent from the game after picking up a hamstring injury against Barcelona. That Celtic looked just as powerful and potent as they’ve done throughout Rodgers’ tenure is a major compliment to the strength of depth in the Parkhead squad, and the diminutive Scottish winger who took his place.

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