BRENDAN RODGERS hailed two-goal James Forrest and insists the experienced winger “can be the difference-maker” as Celtic head into five make-or-break encounters.

Success in that sequence of challenges will bring a league and Cup double in the Northern Irishman’s second coming at the club after a four and a half year interlude.

Thirty-two-year-old Forrest, making only his fourth start of the campaign, was the hero of the nervy, hard-fought 2-1 victory over determined Dundee at Dens Park – and his strikes in each half maintained the champions’ three-point advantage at the top of the table.

THAT’S MY BHOY…Brendan Rodgers applauds James Forrest as he comes off in the 72nd minute after his two-goal display against Dundee at Dens Park.

The dependable wide Bhoy reminded everyone of his value to the side when he was introduced to the action after an hour against Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup semi-final the previous weekend.

Forrest replaced the toiling Yang Hyun-jun with the last-four tie stalemated at 1-1 and put a better complexion on the scoreline with a superb drive to make it 2-1 within a minute or so of his arrival.

Thanks to Joe Hart’s expertise at saving penalty-kicks, the holders eventually won through to a showpiece showdown with Rangers at Hampden on the iconic date of May 25 as the curtain comes down on a rollercoaster season.

Before that glamour occasion, though, the Hoops have Hearts at Parkhead on Saturday and Philippe Clement’s Ibrox outfit at the same venue a week later. A trip to Rugby Park to face Kilmarnock is scheduled for the midweek before what is hoped to be the club’s traditional Flag Day in Paradise with St Mirren the opponents on May 18.

Forrest will stand up to be counted as the hurdles are met and overcome and Rodgers, reflecting on the forward’s performance on Tayside, said: “I spoke to the players afterwards about James and he’s been one of the fathers of the big success this club has had over the past decade.

UNSTOPPABLE…James Forrest lashes in the opening goal with team-mate Kyogo Furuhashi and Dundee defenders Ricky Lamie and Antonio Portales getting a close-up view.

“There’s not too many of them around now – there’s Cal, but James obviously being the longest-serving. It’s that humility, his attitude, mentality and then, naturally, his on-pitch quality is something that we’ve seen over many years and has probably never got the credit he deserves.

“But I’m sure that’ll come at some point, especially when he leaves, but for us now you can see the contribution that he can make.

“It was a brilliant first goal, just sheer technique and precision with the finish, and the second one he makes it look easier than it was off his left side.”

Rodgers, speaking to Celtic TV, continued: “James is a great servant to this club who can be a difference-maker for us in these last five games.

“He’s been there, he’s done it and what he’s achieved for the club is not by accident. He’s obviously been part of really good teams, but good teams are made up of really good individual players and he has been an outstanding individual player.

“He’s never wavered all season and he’s making a really good contribution for us. You see the difference he makes when he plays.”

A lapse in concentration from Adam Idah in the 74th minute when he deflected an effort past the wrong-footed Joe Hart made for a nail-biting conclusion to the confrontation.

MAKE MINE A DOUBLE…Matt O’Riley races to congratulate James Forrest.

The Hoops gaffer added: “It was always going to be difficult because the pitch was very dry. Just walking on it at the end, seeing how bumpy it was, which made it difficult for fast-flowing football – you could see that in terms of the ball bouncing about.

“But the win, at this stage of the season, is what is important.

“I always look at performance, but, ultimately, by the end of the game you don’t want to have performed really well and lost the game.

“So I’m really pleased with the players. We got a goal up and had another couple of opportunities in the first-half.

“In the second-half we then got control of the game at 2-0, but, sadly, we gave away the own goal which gave them a bit of hope in the last 15 minutes.

“But we dealt with it well, the balls into the box, we had to defend strong and I’m pleased to get the three points.”


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