James Forrest finding it strange that Rangers are above Celtic

There is an admission from Celtic winger James Forrest that casting an eye over the Premiership table has felt a little odd since the club’s loss to Livingston a week past 

James Forrest, left, with Tom Rogic and Jonny Hayes. Picture: SNS
James Forrest, left, with Tom Rogic and Jonny Hayes. Picture: SNS

However, the 28-year-old isn’t allowing himself to fret over the fact that the eight-time Scottish champions are now in the unusual position of finding themselves trailing leaders Rangers by two points. He does, though, acknowledge that it gives Neil Lennon’s men no margin for error when they entertain Ross County on Saturday as the league campaign resumes following the international break. The County game gives Celtic the chance to move back to the summit – at least for a day, with the Ibrox side meeting Hearts at Tynecastle the next day. Forrest knows, on the back of taking only one point from their past two Premiership outings, it is an opportunity Celtic cannot afford to pass up when the challenge from across the city has been ramped up.

“We’d been doing really well though, obviously, we had a bad performance and a bad result just before the international break, but have a lot of big games coming up now and our squad will be used to the full. We’re all going to push on now,” said Forrest of the seven games the club face in the next three-and-a-half weeks.

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“It’s a bit strange not being at the top of the table because it’s around ten months since that was last the case but it keeps us on our toes because we know that if we slip up then Rangers are winning regularly so it’s vital that we take the three points off Ross County on Saturday.

“We have to get back to winning ways. Rangers went into the new year level on points with us last season but we tend to become stronger after the winter break in January. However, we can’t take anything for granted. It’s always tight going into the second half of the season and Rangers are stronger than they were a year ago. Hopefully, that’s our bad performance and result behind us.”

The Celtic winger doesn’t go a bundle for the suggestion that the 2-0 loss at Livingston, when an early red card for Ryan Christie disadvantaged Lennon’s side, was any form of “wake-up call”.

“You’d prefer to just keep winning but it’s practically impossible to maintain that high a level right through a campaign,” he said. “Now we need to show a reaction to that display this weekend.”

When that rolls around, Celtic will have another of those runs when they will hardly have the opportunity to catch their breaths as they attempt to progress in three competitions ahead of the final international fortnight of the year. It is impossible to prioritise when the tests come so thick and fast. Yet the two games against Lazio in the Europa League will inevitably draw much focus, with the Rome club due in Glasgow next Thursday.

“It’s a tough schedule, with the Betfred Cup semi-final [against Hibernian on 2 November], the double-header with Lazio in the Europa League and Aberdeen away [on 27 October] as well. But 
it’s also exciting and the boys are looking forward to it,” 
Forrest said.

“Lazio are the favourites to win the group but we’re aiming to get a positive result against them at Parkhead and then take something from the away game as well. Cluj have already beaten them but I believe the four clubs are all of a similar standard. Everyone can beat everyone else so we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. Our fans were with us right from the start when we beat Cluj the other week.

“We started well and gave the crowd something to cheer about; it’s probably the best we’ve played all season and another display like that would do next time out. It’s really good that the match against Lazio is already sold out.

“The atmosphere is going to be electric when we kick off and then it’s up to us to ensure that we keep everyone roaring us on after that.”