In view of the fact he made his Old Firm debut as long as seven years ago, Celtic winger James Forrest’s first goal against Rangers can be considered a long time coming.
Admittedly, there was a spell when the two sides did not meet very often. But, in more recent times, while the Celtic goals have rained in against their rivals, Forrest’s name has been conspicuous by its absence from the scoresheet.
This curious quirk meant getting it in the neck from his younger brother, Alan, who scored for Ayr United in a 6-1 Scottish Cup defeat by Rangers earlier this season. “He has been on at me about it for a wee while now,” said Forrest yesterday, having broken his duck in Celtic’s thumping 5-0 win over the Ibrox side on Sunday.
“I am delighted to score, help the team get three points, keep a clean sheet and score a lot of goals,” he added. “I am just delighted all round.” He revealed his brother sent him a message before the game. “Give us a goal today,” it read.
Forrest did just that. His first-half strike took the Celtic winger on to nine goals for the season – the same as his brother’s total and also, remarkably, the equal highest any Celtic player has scored in the league this season.
Forrest and Leigh Griffiths share this distinction, with Moussa Dembele one behind on eight. Despite another season of dominance, a Celtic player has yet to hit double figures in the league.
Forrest’s contribution in terms of goals from the wing underlines why he was nominated among the PFA candidates for player of the year. Present for all seven of Celtic’s recent run of successive title triumphs, he has truly excelled during this memorable campaign for the Forrest family.
Both Alan and James celebrated championship wins over the weekend. Ayr’s League One triumph was more unlikely but nevertheless welcome after they edged past Raith Rovers to steal the crown on the final day courtesy of a 2-0 victory over Albion Rovers while the Kirclady side could only draw 0-0 with Alloa. Celtic, meanwhile, secured theirs in emphatic fashion and with considerable style at Celtic Park against their fiercest rivals.
Forrest might have suspected he was set for a productive afternoon when he heard Rangers were playing a midfielder at left-back. Andy Halliday tried his best but endured another traumatic outing against Celtic. The auxiliary full-back might have wished he had been withdrawn in the 40th minute once again.
Forrest evaded Halliday’s and other weak challenges to score Celtic’s third after 44 minutes. Odsonne Edouard had put Celtic two up after 42 minutes – with Halliday again culpable along with Russell Martin. Halliday was also left in a heap by his opposite man in the second-half. Forrest was unwilling to suggest he sensed there was scope to notch his first goal given the Ibrox side’s evident frailties at present.
“Obviously when you are playing Rangers they have got good players,” said Forrest. “No matter who you are playing it is going to be a hard game. We just focus on ourselves. We give the opposition respect. But we know if we turn up we can do that to any team with the hunger we have.”
Forrest is a one club man and credits manager Brendan Rodgers’ arrival as convincing him to sign a new contract in August 2016. He is determined to stick around for longer and will begin discussions on a new deal before long. These are not expected to drag on like last time. Forrest seems happier than ever. As well as keeping on loan Manchester City winger Patrick Roberts out of the team, Forrest has become an integral member of the Scotland side. It’s particularly heartening for Celtic fans to see two players in Forrest and Tierney excelling after being brought through the club’s own youth system. “I always remember coaches telling me as I came through the youth ranks that not many players make it, especially at a club like Celtic,” reflected Forrest. “Very few come right through. The dream is to make your debut and after that you want more. I just want to keep going.”
He maintains he was never close to leaving Celtic. “It was maybe made into more than it actually was,” he said. “My contract was down to the last six months. I maybe could have left. But in my head I always wanted to stay here. Once the gaffer came in I made that clear. I was buzzing when he arrived. I haven’t looked back since signing that deal and getting that out of the way. Celtic is a massive club. I have always wanted to stay here as long as I can. I will keep working hard to make that happen.”
Forrest paid particular tribute to Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager who handed him a debut against Motherwell in 2010 when the winger was only 18 years old. He scored in a 4-0 win. He included Lennon among those who have had most influence in his career to date. “Not a lot of managers give young kids debuts,” said Forrest.
“Then there is my family as well. You can’t do it without your family behind you. International coaches too. There are so many. I don’t think it is fair to name just one or two. The gaffer (Rodgers) as well. I have had so many good influences.”