The adaptable Jonny Hayes prides himself on his pace which has made him one of the fastest players in the Scottish game. He used it well when often asked to cover at left-back for Aberdeen. Indeed, there was only one speed test that would cause his lithe limbs to shake a little. It was provided by James Forrest.
“He was the only player in the league I was worried about doing me for pace on the outside,” said Hayes. “Even if you try and make it a foot race he’s got that intelligence to come in and he’s decent on his left foot. He’s the only player I think with pace I was ever worried about, although I don’t think Scotty [Sinclair] will be too happy to hear that. He’s got a terrific turn off pace. Inside, outside, I’ve always been a big admirer of him.”
On Saturday in the Stadium of Light, Hayes had the opportunity to admire Forrest the frontman. The winger was give a try-out as a No 9. The experiment allowed Brendan Rodgers to judge whether he could be a possible for the role in the deciding leg of the club’s colossal Champions League third round qualifier against Rosenborg in Norway on Wednesday in the event of Leigh Griffiths being unavailable.
It made for one more unexpected element to this embryonic season for Celtic, after Tom Rogic struggled in that role for the scoreless first leg. An encounter wherein Rodgers was denied the services of Moussa Dembele, who will be out for a month with a hamstring injury and Griffiths, banned and sidelined with an ankle problem.
Forrest may not have scored against a Sunderland side slayed by a Callum McGregor hat-trick and goals from Stuart Armstrong and Hayes, but his natural zig-zagging traits were key to Celtic tearing apart an admittedly tissue defence.
“James was outstanding up front,” said Hayes. “Being a wide player, his movement was really good. He moved the centre halves and midfielders about the pitch. They didn’t know who was picking him up and when he dropped into the hole, it gave me and Scotty a lot more freedom to get forward.
“He was outstanding and he is a very underrated player. I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. He is a clever player as a winger. He knows when to keep the ball and is of the highest calibre, having been at Celtic for almost a decade.
“James kept Paddy Roberts out the team for a long time last year and that shows how good he is. On his day, nobody can touch him and if he goes and plays that role through the middle in midweek, he can do more than just a job, He can score goals, create chances and do really well there for the team.”
When Hayes arrived at Celtic Park in a £1.3 million deal last month he stated one of the irresistible draws of the move was that it could provide him with the opportunity to play in the Champions League. That goes on the line in Trondheim on Wednesday, but Hayes’ relish for being at Celtic will not be affected by the ability of Rodgers’ team to avoid a first loss in eight months when facing up to Rosenborg in two days’ time.
“I’m pleased with how things are going so far,” he said. “I knew it was always going to be tough to try and get in the team. It was never a case of me signing and getting in straight away, with Celtic coming off an unbeaten season. It was always going to be tough.
“I was comfortable against Linfield, and Rosenborg probably didn’t get the credit they deserved last week.
“Seeing the crowd for a game at Sunderland, I don’t think many clubs would take 10,000 fans to a friendly.
“I’ve always said since I came here it’s about the complete package, there’s not one thing. I’m not just here to play in the Champions League or just to do whatever, it’s about the whole package for me.”
The reality is that the package loses its golden element if it doesn’t contain Champions League football.