James Forrest still on fire despite odd criticism from former Celtic star

James Forrest added another double in yesterday’s win over Livingston to take his tally for the season to 13.

The winger, who put pen to paper on a new four-year deal at the end of October, looks set to break his previous best haul of 17 goals for the club, achieved in each of the last two seasons.

Forrest has scored more than half of his 85 goals for the club in the past two and a half seasons and it’s not inconceivable that, by the time this campaign is done, he’ll be the latest Celtic to hit a century in the Hoops.

The speed merchant has always been an explosive talent, attracting the attention of Spurs in 2011 and being described around the same time as the “light in the darkness” of Scottish football by the SFA’s performance director Mark Wotte.

However, despite some crucial contributions, it wasn’t until 2016 when Brendan Rodgers arrived that Forrest seemed to elevate his game to another level.

Not only that, but he found the consistency to go with his undoubted talent as he battled for the right-wing spot with Patrick Roberts and emerged victorious.

Almost exactly a year ago, Forrest took his goalscoring form onto the international stage, scoring a double away to Albania. He followed that up by scoring a hat-trick against Israel, the first Celtic player to do so in the dark blue since Jimmy Quinn in 1908.

Those goals also earned him the rare distinction of being the first Scotland player to score at least two goals in consecutive games since Denis Law in the 60s.

As assistant to Alex McLeish, former Celt Peter Grant had a front-row seat for those performances.

Given that, allied to Forrest’s remarkable form over the past three and a half seasons, it seems odd that Grant would now criticise Forrest over an inability to do it over two games in a row.

Speaking in the Scotsman, he said: “Guys like Ryan Fraser and James Forrest can’t play two matches together. You don’t get the same performance from them [each time]. Their bodies don’t allow it.”

That presumably goes some way to explaining how, a month earlier, Forrest was picked as a substitute for the trip to Israel despite scoring four first-half goals in a blistering performance against St Johnstone the previous weekend. An abject Scotland duly lost the game.

That wasn’t the only observation that raised eyebrows from the twice-capped Grant, who doesn’t appear convinced by today’s sports science methods. Grant also suggested that today’s Scotland players may look fit but “don’t have the mentality” and that the Celtic teams he played in were “never outrun”.

That may be true of some of the Celtic teams that Grant played in, for example, the Centenary season side were never beaten until the final whistle, but it’s certainly not the case for all of them. Aside from that, Grant was never what you would call an elite athlete.

Another interesting self-reflection comes when he wonders if, as a player, he was the first of his kind.

He says: “Maybe I was the first-ever defensive midfielder.”

It’s a jaw-dropper, but he continues: “I could read the game. I knew what everyone in the team did, or should have been doing. If they weren’t I’d be telling them: ‘You – over there.’ That’s why I used to get called Peter the Pointer. I know I was a moanin’-faced get. I would have hated to play with me. I would have killed me!”

Another couple of headscratching moments come when discussing the fiery 1987 clash with Rangers at Ibrox, which ended up with three players sent off and four in the dock.

Grant is referred to as the scorer of the second goal, after which he knelt in front of the Broomloan stand and blessed himself. Terry Butcher has long been credited with an own goal, but it was a close-run race and, let’s be honest, we’d all claim it.

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Referring to his celebration, though, Grant said: “Given the setting, I probably shouldn’t have done it. But, you know, it got me on to EastEnders. Remember when Dirty Den was banged up? There was a newspaper photo of me on my knees on the wall of his cell!”

The internet is a blessing and a curse. Many an hour has been wasted on watching ridiculous YouTube videos and sad to admit, the pictures appear ‘inconclusive’.

Suffice to say, what with it being a ‘topical’ soap, it seems unlikely, what with the Walford wrong ‘un ending up in chokey a good year after oor Peter lapped up the glory in the blazing sunshine of Ibrox.

With over 400 appearances, two league titles and three Scottish Cup winners medals to his name, Grant evidently wasn’t without his qualities. Nor was his commitment to Celtic ever in question.

One of his more memorable games came in the Scottish Cup win over Airdrie in 1995, when he more than anyone ensured that Celtic’s trophy drought would end after six painful years.

His tearful embrace with former teammate and now manager Tommy Burns at the end of the game showed how much it meant to him to end that barren run.

As with all former players, that doesn’t mean he’s incapable of getting it quite spectacularly wrong.

James Forrest has done more than enough these past few seasons to confound his critics, but don’t be surprised if the wide man has another cracker on Thursday night against Rennes to make Grant consider the error of his ways.


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