James Forrest's scoring feat sees him match the likes of Ally McCoist, Davie Cooper, Paul McStay and John Robertson
Celtic winger hits another landmark in joining select band who have scored in every league season for 12 years
The stellar career of James Forrest is littered with landmarks. And, as fits the unassuming 29-year-old, he racked up another with no hoopla last week. The Celtic wide man’s goal in the 3-0 success over Motherwell means he has become only the ninth player in the 45-year Premier era of Scottish football to score in 12 consecutive top-flight seasons.
Typical that Forrest should have chosen the occasion of his 400th game for the club to join the exalted company of Ally McCoist, Davie Cooper, Paul McStay, John Robertson, Paul Sturrock, Eamon Bannon, Joe Miller, Billy Stark and Billy Dodds in this particular club - all of these players going on to keep up their runs in further seasons to varying degrees.
Forrest is a player who should be lauded from the heavens by the Celtic support for his contribution in the decade since he had his debut. His 19 winners’ medals mean there is every possibility he will become the most decorated player in the club’s history. He currently sits fourth in that pecking order, with only Bobby Lennox, who has 25, Billy McNeill with 23, and Scott Brown, on 21, above him. None of them was near his current total while under the age of 30.
Moreover, in having bagged 89 goals - 51 of these in little over the past three years, with almost as many assists - he is firmly on course to become only the 30th player in the club’s history to break the century mark for strikes. Add, for good measure, that his hat-trick for Scotland against Israel in 2018 made him the first Celtic player to net such a treble since Jimmy Quinn in 1908, and the winger is a player who ought to be the firmest of favourites with the support.
Yet, the reality is that he is not. He has been implicated by a section of the club’s followers as Celtic’s have experienced a patchy start to the season. Forrest has always been an easy, and lazy, target for the support at the first hint of grumblings over the team’s form. However many milestones he reaches do not seem to alter inexplicable perceptions among an increasingly spoiled fanbase about a player who has always shown admirable commitment to the club with which he signed youth terms at 13.
His faithfulness and productiveness warrant more appreciation. Fellow 12-season scorer Miller, a former Celtic winger himself, believes it is a lack of appreciation for how the role of the wide player has changed in the modern game that has resulted in Forrest so often appearing the prophet unappreciated in his own land.
“He isn’t the sort of winger who excites fans by beating two or three players or jinking round opponents because that is not what is asked of him,” said the 52-year-old. “Those heels-for-dust types aren’t asked to do the sort of defensive job he can quietly carry out. He isn’t always in games that much and that can be frustrating for fans. I know they got frustrated with me for the same thing, but that is one of the perils of playing out wide. Jamesy doesn’t even always play out wide. He can come inside and often will have the whole 18-yard line to cover.
“Punters always want to see wingers taking oppositions apart with the burst of pace and the mazy dribbles but while he is quick he is more the type that will look to play one-twos in and around the box and make space for others. This isn’t that eye-catching and can count against him.”
Forrest’s longevity and consistent output over a decade ought to count more for him, though. Indeed, when he broke the deadlock against Motherwell, perhaps there was a telling nod to his feelings over the out-of-proportion stick directed his way recently. Ordinarily placid off the pitch and undemonstrative on it, the yells and frenzied chest thumping from the amiable sort looked like a release of pent-up frustration. The player has a record not only for him to stand on, but one his detractors ought to stop ignoring when they seek to stand him down.
“Like the other guys who have scored league goals over 12 seasons, Jamesy has been able to do that because he has stayed in Scotland, when so many other these days go off to England first good chance they get,” said Miller. “That has got to say something for him because he is bound to have had good offers.”
Yet, Miller doesn’t pretend that he wouldn’t like to see Forrest more regularly taking games by the scruff of the neck as he has shown he is undoubtedly capable.
“There are certain days, against certain opposition, where you just feel everything is right for him to tear it up and he then doesn’t always make the impression you would hope for. And then there are other times he can be unplayable. Look at what he has done to St Johnstone at McDiarmid not once, not twice, but at least three times in recent memory. He completely ran amok with four first half goals there a couple of years ago, and he seems to have the hex over that club at that ground. If he can do it there, you think why not do that sort of damage more often. But then they have said that sort of thing about wingers forever. I know.”
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