James Forrest buoyed by return of Steven Fletcher
THEY say you can’t miss what you’ve never had. But when it comes to his involvement in the Scotland squad, James Forrest would beg to differ with that old adage.
Ever since the Celtic winger was first called up by Craig Levein last year, the landscape surrounding the international team has been dominated by a player most conspicuous by his absence.
It is why Forrest is both thrilled and relieved to finally make the acquaintance this week of Steven Fletcher, the Sunderland striker having patched up his differences with Levein and now ready to try and re-energise Scotland’s World Cup prospects.
Forrest, who hopes to win his eighth cap on Friday night and provide some penalty area ammunition for Fletcher against Wales, admits the saga surrounding the former Hibs and Wolves man had become tiresome for the rest of the Scotland players.
“It just dragged on a bit,” said Forrest. “Now everyone is delighted he is back in the squad and we don’t have to answer any more questions about it whenever we meet up. I’ve never played with Steven before but I’ve obviously watched him for Wolves and Sunderland over the past few years. He scores goals wherever he plays and I’m sure he will do it for Scotland too.
“Week-in and week-out he’s one of the best strikers in the English Premier League. That’s the kind of guy you want in your team. He scores with both feet and with his head and I’m looking forward to playing with him. I think all the players are delighted to have him in the squad. It keeps everyone on their toes as well. If your top players are back in the squad then the fans, the players and the coaches will all be happy with that.
“With Scott Brown and Darren Fletcher also involved again this time, we’ve got three big players back now who missed the first couple of games last month against Serbia and Macedonia. That’s a massive boost going into the next two games. It’s great timing. To be honest, I wasn’t surprised that Steven was in the squad this time. I think everyone thought he would come back at some stage and I’m just delighted that it’s now. Steven has been out for the last two years and he’s doing the business in the Premier League so it’s almost like Scotland being able to make a new signing.”
Forrest, who last month appeared as a substitute in the 0-0 stalemate against Serbia at Hampden before making his first competitive start for Scotland in the 1-1 draw with Macedonia, accepts that the performance levels in the first two Group A fixtures were sub-standard.
But he is confident of improvement away from home, in Cardiff on Friday and then against Belgium in Brussels next Tuesday night, when he believes Scotland can thrive away from the expectations of a Hampden crowd. He is unconcerned by Scotland’s poor record in Wales, including 3-0 and 4-0 defeats on their previous two visits to Cardiff.
“We didn’t play well in the first two games so we have these two coming up to rectify it,” said Forrest. “How important is it that the fans don’t get on our back? I think the away crowd is always different to the home crowd.
“The Tartan Army will be good in Wales and that will help us. It would give us a massive boost if we get the three points on Friday night, although after only three games you still wouldn’t be able to rule anyone out in the section.
“We are not really bothered about Wales’ situation. We are just concentrating on Scotland and trying to get as many points as we can. Should Wales be worrying about us more than we should worry about them? Aye. Those results are in the past and we are a different team now. That gives us confidence. They will be looking at our players and thinking they will have to stop us.
“I think they will know we have a good team. They will know our players and who they play for and I think it will be a good game.
“I’m looking forward to playing against my Celtic team-mates Joe Ledley and Adam Matthews. It will be strange at first, but once you get into it it will be just another game really. But I want to beat them.” Forrest is relishing the opportunity to test himself at a higher level this season, both with Celtic in the Champions League and for Scotland in the 2014 World Cup campaign.
The 21-year-old believes Celtic’s 3-2 win over Spartak Moscow in Russia last week was a timely indicator of the degree of success Scottish teams remain capable of achieving.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence after Moscow,” he said. “It was a great performance and the boys did really well out there.
“We all worked hard and we got a wee break and a good result. Does it send out a message that Scottish football isn’t as bad as some people think? I think we get a hard time, but we have got good players, Premier League players, and maybe we get criticised when we shouldn’t.
“It would obviously be another major boost for the country if Scotland can do well in these next two games and that’s what we will all be striving for.”
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Sunday 19 May 2013
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