James Forrest believes the return to Celtic of Patrick Roberts has helped inspire him to produce arguably his best ever form for the Scottish champions.
Forrest’s regular place in the Celtic starting line-up appeared to be under threat earlier this season when the much-hyped re-signing of Manchester City winger Roberts on another loan deal was finally concluded just before the summer transfer window closed.
But in recent weeks, Forrest has been one of the outstanding performers in Brendan Rodgers’ side, with his display in the Champions League against Bayern Munich at Celtic Park a fortnight ago earning him widespread plaudits.
The 26-year-old wide man has already scored seven goals for Celtic this season, leaving him firmly on target to reach double figures for the first time and eclipse his previous best tally of nine goals, which he managed back in 2011-12.
While Roberts is currently sidelined with a hamstring injury, Forrest’s form would make it tough for Rodgers to leave him out of his team under any circumstances.
“Patrick came back to the club at a time when I was feeling good about my own game,” said Forrest. “It is more competition for places and it drives people on.
“It is also good for Celtic, with the amount of games we have to play, to have that competition within the squad. If you ask everyone, they want to play – that is everyone’s attitude because we all want to make sure we are available for every game. You always need to be at it in training and to be working hard to give you your best chance to play in the games.
“Last season was definitely a special season. It was one of my best for Celtic and more enjoyable. I think I have kicked on and I am doing even better this season. We are not even halfway through this season and I just want to keep improving. The more big games I play it will help because it means I will only get better.”
While he was on international duty with Scotland last Thursday, winning his 21st cap for his country in the 1-0 defeat against Netherlands at Pittodrie, Forrest enjoyed a rare weekend off from what has been an intense schedule at Celtic both domestically and in Europe.
The challenge will resume with a Premiership trip to Ross County on Saturday, when Celtic will look to extend their record-breaking run in all domestic competitions to 64 games. They then face a daunting Champions League challenge in France against Paris Saint-Germain next week followed by the Betfred Cup final against Motherwell at Hampden on 26 November.
“All the Celtic boys were delighted with the wee break,” said Forrest. “Since pre-season that has been our first break. It is tough, both mentally and physically, because we are in right from the start in the Champions League qualifiers in June.
“Normally we have a game every two or three days. In saying that, you also want to play and be involved in all the big games.
“It was good to get that rest, but now we are back and it is back into another tough schedule and we want to start by being ready for the Ross County game.
“After that we have a Champions League game and then a cup final. They are big games and we know we will need to pick it up and be at it again.
“We got the new record for unbeaten games in style at St Johnstone last time out. The manager hasn’t really spoken about the record, he just wants to look at each game and to build on it. He takes it one game at a time and that won’t change because it is that approach that has brought us the success we have had so far.”