Mikael Lustig believes that James Forrest can make up for the absence of Patrick Roberts from the Celtic squad this season, calling his teammate one of the best wingers in Britain.

Forrest was in scintillating form at the weekend as he tormented hapless League of Ireland side Shamrock Rovers in a nine-goal pre-season thumping.

His well-taken goal and generally fine play in the hour he was on, whilst admittedly against poor opposition, nonetheless showed that he is in fine fettle as Celtic gear up for Friday’s Champions League qualifier against Linfield.

And Lustig, who latched onto a Forrest pass to start the rout in Dublin on Saturday, is convinced that his partner on the right flank will be a key player for the champions this term.

“You forget about the start of last season,” Lustig said. “When you look back, it was James who was playing and scoring goals.

“He was really good for us – as was Paddy when he came into the team later on. A lot of people talk about Paddy Roberts and forget what James did. For me, I think James was probably one of our best players up until the winter time.

“Now he is looking really sharp. Everyone knows that when he is on his game he is one of the best wingers in Britain.

“James was brilliant last season as well. Hopefully, he can do the same this year because everyone knows his quality.

“Sometimes it is really nice to play with him. You just give him the ball and he does the rest. He will be a really important player for us this season.

“He is 26 now so he hopefully has good years ahead of him. It feels like he has been in the game for a long time and he is an experienced head these days.

“But you can see his confidence is there as well. He is looking really sharp.”

It would have been heartening for Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers to not only witness the form of Forrest, but to also see his replacement on the hour make his mark on proceedings too.

Jonny Hayes got his first goal in the Hoops and caused mayhem with his direct running in his half-hour run-out back in his hometown, and Lustig has been excited by what he has seen from the former Aberdeen man.

“We have different players and different options,” he said. “Jonny brings us something else. He is maybe a little bit more direct and likes to cross the ball with both his left and right foot. He can deliver really good crosses.

“It’s great to have that. We know what Paddy brought to us last season, so it has been really good to get a player like Jonny in. He is a good guy and adapted really well to the team.”

Lustig has been through more than his fair share of European qualifying campaigns with Celtic, with good memories and bad throughout his years at the club.

He admits that it doesn’t get any easier to navigate these early rounds so soon into their preparations for the season, but he feels that the Celtic squad this year are more than ready for the challenge.

“It is going to be really hard,” he said. “There have been games in the past when we have struggled but everyone knows we just need to make sure the result goes our way.

“It’s always difficult. Last season, we didn’t play our best football in Astana away, Gibraltar away or Be’er Sheva as well.

“But as long as we get the result we are happy. And I think we are more ready this year than last time around.

“Last year, the gaffer was new. He didn’t yet know exactly where he wanted to play all the players.

“Now he obviously knows us better and we know him better. That should help us.”

Despite his wide range of experiences with Celtic during these qualifying rounds, one thing that Lustig has never encountered is an away match without the backing of the club’s fans.

But while he would rather have the supporters behind him and his teammates when they travel to Belfast on Friday, he doesn’t think their absence will have a bearing on the match.

“It will be unusual, especially as when we play in domestic football – either home or away – we always have a really good support,” he said.

“Of course, we are going to miss the fans. But we have also played away games in the past where the away crowd are really noisy so it will be okay.

“I don’t think I have ever played in game before without any fans behind us. It will be something different.”