Judge Not

On the 18th of August this year I wrote an unpublished opinion piece for this very site, on a certain Celtic player I’d had enough of.

He hadn’t just had a bad game. On the contrary, he’d hit something of a purple patch.

Rather, he’d had several frustrating seasons of such purple patches interspersed with long runs of frustrating lack of form, low confidence and injuries.

It’d been on my mind to write the article for a couple of months but, being the kind of apathetic procrastinator commonly found on the couch for several hours every day, I’d put it off.

Eventually I decided to go ahead with it despite the uptick in his performances because, as I had addressed in the article, I knew that his form was temporary and his confidence was as robustly solid as mashed egg. It would be another game or two before he once again contributed nothing and my point sadly, would be well made. Bluntly, he could not be relied on and he’d been sitting around too long waiting for the jesrey to shrink to fit him.

Furthermore, and much to the widespread delight of every Tim I know, we’d re-signed his (superior) replacement. His time was up.

I’m sure you’ll have guessed by now that the player I’m talking about is wee Jamesie Forrest.

Weeks passed and the much vaunted Paddy Roberts stepped into James’ starting slot. All was as it should be, I thought.

This season was different though. Paddy was still good but he wasn’t quite last season’s Paddy. Meanwhile whenever Forrest got his chance coming on as a sub or due to squad rotation, he took it. And when i say he took it I mean he really fucking took it. The purple patch he’d been enjoying at the start of the season hadn’t gone the way of last year’s early season promise. Every time he stepped onto the pitch he was on fire. Everything we loved about him when he first burst onto the scene was back. He drove at defences, tormented full-backs and chipped in with plenty of important goals and assists.

Still I was sceptical. We’d been here before. His form was bound to beak down any match now….

Don’t get me wrong, I was rooting for him. It’s not like I wanted him to fail just so I could gloat about being right. I’d just been burned by him too many times.

Well here I am writing a humbled retraction because it’s now November and the guy just keeps getting better and better. Not only hasn’t his form dipped, it’s undergone another of Brendan’s patented stratospheric rejuvenations.

Patiently he waited for his chance as he watched Roberts toil from his place on the bench. Eventually, and I think it may have been coming anyway, he got his chance with Paddy’s injury. What had been building all season coalesced last Tuesday under the lights of Paradise as we took on continental titans Bayern Munich in the Champions league.

Up against him on the right hand side of the pitch was seasoned Austrian international David Alaba. Whilst I’d been slowly coming round to the idea that wee Jamesie might just be a consistent player after all, my expectations for him in this match weren’t exactly strong. Although Bayern had started off the season poorly under Carlo Ancelotti, the uptick in form since the return of Jupp Heynckes had been staggering. Celtic had been just one of the victims of the rejuvenated five-time European champions. The 3-0 doing we took at the Allianz Arena was exactly what we deserved from a game to which we contributed nothing.

Still this was Celtic Park and, at least at the beginning of the match, the fans would be doing their bit to roar the Hoops on. That manic level of backing however requires at least a slither of encouragement from the guys in the green and white. Somebody on the field has to give the fans the encouragement to keep that noise up for 90 minutes. The 5-0 drubbing at the hands of nouveau rich mercenaries Paris Saint-Germain had proven that even the spirit of the jungle can be temporarily bowed if never broken.

Usually on these nights we look to the big hitters in the team to provide the fuel for the fans’ fire. Dembele, Griff, Rogic, Broony, KT and Sinclair are our auld faithfuls. They provide the grit, the pace, the tackling, the goals and the moments of magic that 60,000 fans feed off.

Tuesday night would belong however to our hero from Prestwick. David Alaba didn’t seem to know what’d hit him as Forrest went past him at will all night. You could see the confidence drain from the Bayern left-back as James made a bee-line for him and forced him to back off further and further as the night went on. This was remarkable. Forrest wasn’t just the best player in the hoops, he was the best player on the park.

Everything we’d hoped to see from Forrest for the past six years came together on the biggest stage against one of the best teams in the game. In addition to his runs down the right he provided excellent crosses all night, in particular one cross in the first half that found its way to the perfect position for a finishing touch, deserving so much better than the hideous sclaff applied to it by Stuart Armstrong.

The highlight of his performance however was an absolutely world class dink through a crowded defence for the on rushing Callum McGregor to finish sweetly through the ‘keeper’s legs. I’ve watched the goal over and over again and, while the build-up play in general is superb, it’s that perfect little dink that makes it so satisfying to watch on a loop.

Near the end of the match I posted a very simple six word tweet.

And so here I sit eating a fine buffet of my words and humble pie, all served up in my hat, and I’m absolutely delighted to be doing so. Everything I accused him of in my previous article he has gone ahead and buried under a relentless onslaught of consistent stellar performances that are lifting arses off seats and, more importantly, helping to win games.

James Forrest is now not just playing good football in a great team. He’s playing stand-out football in a team with stand-outs aplenty. For the first time in his medal laden Celtic career he looks like a vital member of the starting 11.

Now the slightest caveat is that I still believe that Paddy Roberts will again find the kind of form he showed as an invincible last season and when he does I still believe him to be the better player of the two. That gap however now resembles less the, replacing Simunovic with Bitton dynamic as it does the replacing Dembele with Griffiths one. They’re both now game changers and game winners and I see them as much more of an interchangable duo rather than a star and his underwhelming understudy.

Credit of course goes to Brendan Rodgers who just seems to know how to get the very best out of the players in his squad. James however can be immensly proud that his obvious hard work, patience and ability to learn lessons has turned him into the kind of player we’d all hoped he would develop into.

For myself… Well I’ve learned an important lesson.

Judge not (Lest ye be obliged to write an extended, apologetic retraction).

So, sorry James. You proved me spectacularly wrong.

Peace be with you all.

Chris.

You can find Chris on Twitter regularly talking about Celtic at @TheRebelTreble.

Chris

Just a Celtic fan. These are my thoughts.

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