Lennon backs Celtic to grow with Forrest

Neil Lennon says James Forrest is irreplaceable after watching him score on his comeback from a seven-week injury layoff against Ross County on Saturday.

The winger scored the fourth in his side's 4-0 win over County after coming on as a second half replacement for Beram Kayal in the 58th minute.

It was Forrest's first appearance for Celtic since the game against Kilmarnock at the end of the October after being ruled out with a hamstring injury.

The Scotland international took just 12 minutes to grab his first goal of the season with a fine individual effort to seal a win that increases lead at the top of the Scottish Premier League to five points.

And his manager was clearly delighted to have Forrest back in his side with Celtic facing a tough festive schedule.

"It is a huge bonus. We were able to go to our more natural formation when he comes on," Lennon said.

"You can see Gary Hooper coming alive when James is stretching teams and he came on and got his goal.

"If we lost him for a length of time again it would be devastating for us because of the wonderful talent that he is. He knows if he has any extra niggles or anything like that he has to report straight away. We are going to monitor him very carefully and make sure he is fit and healthy for the games.

"He has worked really hard the last six or seven weeks and you can see it. He is in great shape and great condition so we just need to get him on the pitch now on a regular basis.

"What price could you put on James Forrest? He's the best kid I've ever worked with and one of the best kids I've seen for a long time for his age. It's just the quality and calibre of his play and he makes people get up off their seats."

Striker Gary Hooper netted his 15th goal of the season in the win over Ross County with two headed efforts coming after captain Scott Brown had broken the deadlock in the 46th minute.

The Englishman has wracked up 51 goals for Celtic in three seasons and Lennon was full of praise.

"He has looked the best he's looked in training this week. He looks lean and hungry," Lennon said.

"I fancied him to score but his all round play was top class and again I think he will only get better. He's an intelligent player and there are some things you can't coach."

Hooper is entering the last 18 months of his contract and is attracting interest from top European sides after his performances for Celtic in the Champions League this season.

But his manager is hopeful of tying the striker down to a new contract at the Glasgow club.

"The sound bites I'm getting from Gary is that he's delighted with things and happy to stay," Lennon added.

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