When you consider that before this season started he had already won 14 senior trophies with Celtic, it’s strange to think of James Forrest as only starting to fully live up to his potential.
The Prestwick-born winger is 27 now and like so many in his position, Forrest has at times blown hot and cold. Last season saw him achieve real consistency for the first time and contribute 17 goals in all competitions as Brendan Rodgers’ Bhoys recorded back-to-back domestic trebles, underscoring their dominance of Scottish football.
Yet, with a dozen goals in his last 11 games for club and country at the conclusion of the November international break, Forrest has taken his form to a new level this term. Prior to a glory or bust UEFA Nations League doubleheader with Albania and Israel, he had never netted in front of the Tartan Army.
Forrest has changed all that now, with five goals in two caps, emphatically ending his previous 23-game wait to break his senior international duck. Hampden Park was treated to a composed and decisive hat-trick that secured Scotland a play-off place for the Euro 2020 finals should they need it and if regular qualifying does not go well.
This is the mark of the increasing influence Forrest is having and the responsibility he is taking in front of goal. He is also well on course to surpass last season’s 17-goal haul for Celtic with six in ten Scottish Premiership matches.
A brace against Albania and that treble over Israel weren’t even the first time Forrest has taken a game by the scruff of its neck this term. His four-goal haul in a 6-0 away rout of St Johnstone was enough for even the most trenchant critic of a Europa League sending off away at Red Bull Salzburg on his previous appearance to forgive him.
Forrest is now looking a solid each-way bet at worst at around 17/2 (9.50) in the Scottish Premiership top scorer market over on moplay.co.uk, because they offer a quarter of those odds on him filling one of the first four places in the charts come the end of the season. That leaves him at better than 2/1 for such a spot minimum.
This fearsome scoring form is welcome news for Bhoys boss Rodgers and Scotland fans alike. Not only has Forrest helped to fire the Hoops into yet another Scottish League Cup final, but that backdoor route to the Euros is much down to his exploits in the national jersey and certainly eased pressure on Alex McLeish.
Such is his stature for club and country, that it’s very telling the only Scottish Premiership games lost by Celtic to date came when Forrest was among the substitutes and not selected in Rodgers’ starting XI. If some supporters were worried about there being no chance to replace Moussa Dembele, who left Parkhead for Lyon on transfer deadline day in the summer, then at least his scoring mantle has been taken up.
While that isn’t a burden that has fallen upon Forrest alone with French youngster Odsonne Edouard also in attack, the leggy forward is actually the perfect foil for a winger coming inside to get shots away. There’s plenty more to come from Forrest if his recent exploits are any indicator.