Inverness Caledonian Thistle are the only side to have denied the defending champions maximum points in Premiership action, but on Scottish Cup duty, in Glasgow on Saturday, they never looked likely to replicate the September draw. There was a chasm between the teams, and while the Highlanders tried to upset the rhythm of the home team, Celtic rode the physical challenges and relied on their superior quality to ensure progress to the quarter-finals.
“I think they got a few yellow cards in the first half,” said winger James Forrest, who is confident and playing as well as he ever has. “They were kicking us but we kept going. We kept getting back up and we managed to get a few goals. That’s the best thing to do: keep them running and score more goals to put them down.”
They did that expertly and from the moment Mikael Lustig opened the scoring in the 21st minute, slotting away Nir Bitton’s ball forward, they went after their guests again and again and again.
Solid throughout the side, it was on the flanks and up front that Celtic proved deadly, with wingers Scott Sinclair and Forrest supplying the service and Moussa Dembele, once again, finishing.
A second successive hat-trick by the youngster was wrapped up in just 14 minutes, underlining his value to the team.
“It’s great to have a player like that. You give him a chance and you know he’ll score,” acknowledged Forrest, pictured, who was one of those serving up those opportunities. Dembele buried them in the 45th and 51st minute before heading home his third in the 59th.
“He just seems to keep scoring. He’s on 26 [goals for the season] now and he could easily hit 40.”
Forrest understands the threat his colleague poses teams like Inverness and says it is no wonder that he is being linked with big-money moves, but that interest has not hampered his focus, proving he has the mental ability to match the very obvious talent.
“It’s not affected him at all,” added Forrest. “The boys have been giving him a wee bit of stick but he gets on with it. You wouldn’t think he’s only 20 with the way he acts. That’s two hat-tricks in a row. It’s a huge credit to him and the players around him for creating the chances. His all-round game is improving as well.
“His link-up play was spot on, as were his goals. He’s not let anything affect him whether that be being linked with other clubs. He’s just focused on playing with Celtic for the rest of the season.”
A class apart from the rest of Scottish football, as the massive lead in the league demonstrates, there is a positivity and maturity to the clinical way Celtic refuse to take their foot off the gas.
Four up, they continued to press and Kieran Tierney and Scott Brown got the rewards late on to ensure an even more emphatic scoreline and bolster the belief coursing through the club as they close in on the treble.
“So far we’ve won the League Cup and have done really well in the league,” said Forrest. “But [the treble] still seems a long way away. Even though we are in the quarters, we just need to take it from there, make sure we get into the semis and hopefully the final.”