CHRIS DAVIES believes James Forrest could be the Celtic match-winner tomorrow night against Zenit Saint-Petersburg and enable them to take a huge step towards the last 16 of the Europa League.
Forrest has been on fire this season, especially on the European scene, and is fresh from bagging a hat-trick in last Saturday’s William Hill Scottish Cup defeat to Partick Thistle that keeps Celtic on course for the feat of back-to-back domestic Trebles.
Davies, Brendan Rodgers ‘ assistant, feels the threat of Forrest – and that of Scott Sinclair – could hold the key to a first-leg result.
However, he warned that the Russians, dominated by Roberto Mancini are high-quality outfit that will be extremely difficult opponents.
Davies said: “James has had a great season so far. He played well last season, but this year, it is not only the obtaining of hat-tricks like this, it has been one of our better performers in the European games to return to Rosenborg.
“you also think back to Bayern Munich at home.
“In terms of tactics and technique, he understands his role in the team, but he has a very high technical level. A first contact, the ability to evade people with his second touch in addition, it is fast.
“Which allows him to play at this level. It is in a good moment in confident spirits.
“You want as many players like that as you can.”
Forrest has become a better player since the arrival of Rodgers, and Davies just when it seemed that he might have to leave the club when he refused a new contract under former manager Ronny Deila.
Davies said: “I am absolutely delighted for James as he is very humble, hardworking and dedicated. It is always nice to see players like that getting the reward.
“I think it’s just a question of maturity. We were aware of James when we were in Liverpool when he burst onto the scene.
“We played Celtic in a friendly atmosphere. At this point, he has been the stand-out that I’ve been able to see in the team. A very light, fast drive. He looked a real breakthrough player.
“the Time has passed and it has carved a good career for himself. Of course, we have gone through and it really flourished.
“He plays in different positions, so that it must be adaptable. He added that the final product which is very important for the wingers.
“We try to highlight that. Scott Sinclair is a player who’s done well for Brendan to a couple of clubs. It is another winger who scores goals.
“It is important that you can contribute with the support and goals from this position. James certainly did.”
The Celtic coaching staff have watched hours of footage of the Russians in the action and scout John McGlynn has got the latest watching Zenit to play friendly matches in Turkey last week.
“They are very disciplined team,” said Davies. “They have lots of attacking threats in the team and I think their state of mind will be balanced, to be honest, because they have a very good team, and an experience manager.
“They have some of the tactics of the organization, defensively they are very compact and very organised and with the ball, they can play as well in possession as they can counter-attack.
“They have good technical players who make good passes and good decisions, at the right time, and they have the pace, power and quality of the counter-attack. There’s also the game of the quality and the delivery and execution of this. So they are a top team – a Champions League level team.”
He added: “this is what we are prepared for and what we need to do is find a way to stop them and hurt them.
“At Liverpool, we played in the same tour five years ago when Brendan was the manager. We pulled the game on the two legs 3-3, but went out on away goals. There is a little talk of their condition of pre-game, but they are in very good condition.
“They’have had a couple of training camps, and now to build their form and a lot of games to be ready, so I expect them to be physically at a level to compete.”
good news for The Celts, it is that Tom Rogic is expected to make the bench, thus offering an attacking threat if they need it.
Davies said: “It’s a chance that Tom will be involved in the Zenit games. We’ll just have to see how it is and make a decision.
“We have a few injured players back to training which is good. We are in a good place.”
during this time, Davies has heaped praise on the Celtic support as he hoped, with Forrest, to provide a solid platform for the Hoops to build on when they go to Russia next week.
“I hope that this is something that we can use to inspire us,” he said. “The fans generating the most incredible atmosphere. I’ve never heard of noise I heard at Celtic Park to a football match before. It really is a fantastic experience in the stadium.
“On the ground, we have to perform just as well to inspire the fans. We’ll work together and this is the plan. This is a great place to play.”