A trip to Perth to face a confident St Johnstone for today’s last-eight tie in the competition wouldn’t have been Celtic’s choice of perfect occasion to shake off the downer of midweek. James Forrest might have reason to see it as so, though.
The winger has scored more goals against the McDiarmid Park club – nine in all – than any other team. Almost all in that aforementioned arena. He has plundered seven goals within it, and six of these have come in his past three visits alone, boosted by his quartet in a 6-0 victory 17 months ago. Such a thumping is among a clutch as Celtic have bagged 30 goals without reply in a nine-game run that has brought them eight wins.
The manner of the club’s continental exit has damaged the impression of Celtic as returning from the break supercharged. It isn’t the first clanger of this season, but they have never allowed any previous dramas to become crises because they haven’t had back-to-back games when they have failed to win. Forrest knows they need to do that in his happy place, which he has no desire to present as such.
“Copenhagen is a hard one to take but the last couple of years and this season as well we’ve had some setbacks and we’ve managed to kick on and pick ourselves up and produce some good performances. That’s what’s called for again and hopefully we can do that,” said the 28-year-old.
The sorry end to a continental campaign that reached dizzying heights with home-and-away victories over Lazio to top a European group for the first time will cast a shadow over today. Yet, Forrest knows they must step out of it to ensure the week isn’t remembered darkly for also being the one in which their record 33-game winning run in domestic cup competition comes to an end.
“We know it’s another big game, the quarter-final of the cup, and one that we need to make sure we turn up for because we know what they can do when they play well, they took points off Rangers, so that will be in the back of our heads. Our cup run has been unbelievable and none of the boys or the staff want it to stop on Sunday. We want to keep going and make sure we go to Hampden again and it starts with Sunday.
“It’s hard [to lift ourselves after Copenhagen] because the European campaign has been so positive. So many good results and performances. Even last week [with the 1-1 draw in Denmark], it was still a good performance and a decent result so everyone is gutted but we need to pick ourselves up because we still have a lot to play for.”
A curious apprehension seemed to grip Celtic on Thursday as openings went abegging. It felt as if Rangers’ success in Braga had placed an onus on the Scottish champions to respond… and that got to them. No player would ever admit to such a scenario but Forrest does confess that the haplessness against Copenhagen was more numbing than the similarly scatty vanquishing at the hands of Cluj in the Champions League qualifier when they lost 4-3 at home to the Romanians in August.
“All the boys were feeling positive,” added the winger. “After last week, we knew on the counter we had a few more chances and we still had chances in the return as well so we’re just gutted for the fans, and gutted because we came back from a positive result last week that [yet] we couldn’t get into the next round.
“I think it is worse than Cluj because we knew after Cluj we still had another game to make sure we were still in Europe and we knew in the Europa League you get big ties and we did that in the group and now that’s us out, so it’s worse.”
Worse still would be succumbing to St Johnstone this afternoon.