James Forrest breaks silence on Neil Lennon departure as comeback winger predicts Celtic recovery

James Forrest believes Celtic can overcome their present “blip” to be set on the route to an era that matches previous successes - even as he admitted to being “gutted” over the departure of long-time mentor Neil Lennon.

Celtic's James Forrest comes on to replace Scott Brown at Tannadice on Sunday to bring an end to almost six months out following an ankle fracture. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)
Celtic's James Forrest comes on to replace Scott Brown at Tannadice on Sunday to bring an end to almost six months out following an ankle fracture. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The winger returned to action at the weekend following nearly six months sidelined by an ankle fracture that required surgery. His re-appearance - as a substitute in the scoreless draw away to Dundee United on Sunday - came on the day Celtic’s nine-title run ended. However, the 29-year-old is confident in the club’s capacity for renewal with John Kennedy expected to remain as interim manager until a new man is appointed in the summer.

Forrest’s upbeat assessment is drawn from his experiences of change at the top of the club’s football operation at various times across almost 11 years in the Parkhead side’s senior set-up, a period that has earned him 19 winners’ medals.

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“I’ve had a lot of different managers at the club, a lot of different times, and most of them have been successful with positivity and highs,” said the Scotland international in an interview with Celtic TV. “There have been blips and when you don’t win that is when everybody should stick together. It makes you realise what we have done, and makes that even better, and we need to strive to get back to that.”

Forrest admitted it was difficult to find himself powerless to help Lennon as the Northern Irishman proved unable to turn around the club’s ailing fortunes in this desperate campaign before the end of his two-year second spell came late last month.

“He was my first manager, he brought me through and I had him in the reserves, and then had a great spell in the first team with him,” said Forrest. “Then he came back and it started off so well. I was gutted and the last few months I never got to play under him. It has been a hard time for everyone. Gutted to see him go and I wish him all the best.”

Forrest said he couldn’t “even describe” how good it felt to be back on the pitch after “the worst ever” injury in his career that he sustained early into a Europa League qualifier in Riga on September 24. The hardest part of the rehabilitation for him that followed surgery - required when the fracture did not respond to a rest cure - came with the sense of isolation.

“After the operation there were days at Lennoxtown that came when the boys had a lot of games and were maybe in at different times; with lots of away games and so different days off from me,” he said. “I went a good couple of months not being able to see the boys as much. That is hard. You want to be part of it, in amongst the boys. I’m delighted to have been back training with them for the past two weeks and that I can get on the pitch and help them. Now I just want to continue my comeback.”

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