ALAN Forrest will line up against Celtic this afternoon having done something his brother hasn’t; stand on the winning team from a Livingston v Celtic encounter at the Toni Macaroni Arena.
The trajectory of both Forrest siblings seems to be in stark contrast in recent months. Alan is currently in the purple patch of his Livingston career with 3 league goals from his last six games while he has been directly involved in 12 of the club’s last 14. Dundee United were keen on landing the winger on a pre-contract agreement in January only for Livingston manager David Martindale to insist that Forrest junior could move on to a bigger stage. Recent performances would give credence to that suggestion.
Forrest senior could yet retire from Celtic as the most decorated player the club has produced. With 19 winners’ medals to date, the Scotland internationalist would require six more trinkets to level with Bobby Lennox, who tops Celtic’s list. And while Forrest has yet to find his stride after returning from an awkward ankle injury, it seems absurd that he still splits opinion among the club support in terms of the creative output that he offers.
There is no such ambiguity in the mind of Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou.
“I know he’s still got it – it’s just a matter of him getting a run,” said the Greek-Australian. “James is still a man for the big moments and I’m sure we have some big ones ahead of where he will be involved.
“James just needs a good run at it and unfortunately he’s not had that due to some interruptions. But I thought James, Tommy Rogic and Nir Bitton were outstanding when they came on against St Mirren in midweek.
“Especially James because that’s as bright as he’s been for us in quite a while. He was a real threat, he took people on. I know he’s going to be a valuable contributor for us before the end of the season. People forget that it was his goal in the League Cup semi-final that got us to the final.”
There is some credibility to the accusation that Livingston on home soil are one of Celtic’s bogey teams. It’s 2007 since Celtic last won at Almondvale yet that sequence of years doesn’t quite tell the full story since Livingston were out of the top flight until 2018.
Celtic were on the end of a defeat back in September as Postecoglou was in the early stages of constructing a team. It was a result that was in keeping with the difficulties Celtic have had on the much discussed artificial surface at Livingston with three draws and two defeats the inauspicious return over recent seasons.
Martindale’s side, though, are currently undefeated on league duty since losing to St Johnstone at the start of February. And while the anticipation is that they will sit in and make life as turgid as possible for Celtic, Postecoglou believes they are more than just a team who are awkward to play against.
“I think people are selling them a bit short this year,” he said. “I’ve watched them closely and during the year, they’ve become more than that. They’re a real threat going forward.
“It’s not just at home, either. Look at their results away from home too. They’ve been one of the most consistent teams. People just dismiss them as being one-dimensional but I don’t see it that way. Yes, they’re hard to break down and a difficult team to open up defensively. But they’ve also got threats going the other way and we need to be ready for that.
“David has done a fantastic job, albeit I’ve only been here this year. I look at the way he works with his team and I like the fact that when someone’s written off they come back.
“It’s the same with Malky at Ross County. Both of those clubs have rolled their sleeves up and got on with things. They’ve caused problems for every team in the league and I’ve got great admiration for what David has done.
“I know how tough this manager role is. But he’s done a brilliant job with his group of players. At Livingston, we know we’re in for a tough game but that’s good for us because we’ll need to be at our best to beat them.”
Postecoglou’s philosophy has been to establish a team who peak at the finale of the season. Recent performances from Celtic have lacked the sparkle of their earlier form following the return from the winter break but they have dropped only two points as they have orchestrated a nine-point swing that has put them out in front.
“We’re still building a team here,” he said. “When you’re going through that phase, you’re not going to be at your optimum best in every game. You also have to take into account the teams who are trying to stop you. We have to find ways and solutions to get over that.
“I hope we’re on track to be strong in this part of the season, that’s the plan. After the Livingston game, we’ve got eight days until we play in the Scottish Cup.
“That will be the first free midweek we’ve had for a while. That means we rest some of the players and put some work into others. Then it’s another week before we play Ross County before the international break.
“That’s a good period of time for us to do some work. The positive thing for us is that the lads we got in January have performed right away.
“That has allowed me to rotate the side, which means we haven’t over burned any players. We haven’t had the level of injuries we had in the first half of the season. I’m hoping we got to the international break with a fully fit, healthy squad. That will help us be at our strongest for the most important part of the year.”