A disappointing 2-1 defeat at Kilmarnock on Sunday felt like Celtic’s season in a microcosm.

1-0 up at half-time - thanks to Matt O’Riley’s ninth goal of the campaign - Celtic looked to have well and truly banished a dreadful opening 45 minutes at McDiarmid Park in their last away game. However, as well as they looked going forward in the first half, Brendan Rodgers’ side looked shaky defensively, even in that opening period.

The home side eventually profited and were rewarded in the second half, thanks to an own goal by the hapless Nat Phillips and a late Matty Kennedy strike that consigned Rodgers to his first league defeat since his return. Although not helped by the loss of another key player in first-choice centre-back Cameron Carter-Vickers, Celtic fell way below the standard expected yet again as they were outplayed by a much more aggressive opponent in the second 45 at Rugby Park.

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Summing up Celtic’s ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ domestic season to date, things could have been different had they taken one of their other first-half chances. One of the biggest of these fell to Oh Hyeon-gyu - preferred to Kyogo Furuhashi again - who failed to connect with a Mikey Johnston cross in the first half. Johnston’s best moment of the game, the Republic of Ireland international winger was handed his second consecutive start after a decent cameo appearance in that win at St Johnstone saw him handed a start last Wednesday against Hibs.

However, in the wake of the 4-1 win over the capital side, Rodgers called on Johnston to ‘do more’ to make the most of his latest - and perhaps last - chance to show he has what it takes to fulfil his potential at Celtic.

Here we take a look at Johnston’s performance at Rugby Park - on and off the ball - to assess whether the Celtic Academy product - who spent last season on loan in Portugal with Vitoria Guimaraes - has now passed up his final chance at the club.   

On the ball

After failing to make the most of his start against Hibs - his first start for Celtic since a Scottish Cup tie against Raith Rovers in February 2022 - Johnston was again preferred to the other current winger options available to Rodgers (Yang Hyun-jun, James Forrest and Marco Tilio, the latter of whom failed to make the squad).

Starting on the right - with Luis Palma on the left - Johnston was bright enough in the opening exchanges. He had an effort on goal off his left blocked and two successful dribbles within the opening six minutes, the second of which saw him beat his man on the outside to deliver a cross into the near post area.

He failed to pick out anyone in a green and white shirt but did well to work a few yards to deliver again just before the 20-minute mark.

Again, he was unable to find a man, though, with his cross evading Palma at the back post.

Johnston’s best moment came ten minutes later when he got in behind to square for Oh for what should have been a tap-in. The winger had two more crosses after that, both of which came before half-time and both of which went out of play. 

A mixed bag at best in the first half, Johnston's impact on the ball in the second half was meagre. As well as failing to produce a cross after the break, Johnston only managed one more dribble in the game, on 59 minutes, which led to him turning the ball over.

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Not replaced until 70 minutes, Johnston also only managed four passes in the second period (he made 26 in the first half). Only two of his second-half passes were forward and he only completed one of them, which came deep in his own half.

Had Oh slid in to finish Johnston’s ball across - as he should have - Celtic may well have gone in with a greater lead at half-time and subsequently went on to pick up three points, completely changing the narrative.

Even had this happened, this may have started a false narrative around Johnston. Outside of this, he failed to create anything of note and when he did get into areas to produce, his quality was - as has been the case with him throughout his Celtic career - sorely lacking.

His own threat was next to none, too, with his one shot in those opening minutes worth 0.09 xG, according to Wyscout. The data provider only calculated a total of 0.42 xG for Johnston in his 285 minutes played in all competitions for Celtic this season, too. Coming from eight shots - just two of which have found the target - this works out at an average 0.05 xG per shot.

A fairly small sample size admittedly, Johnston’s total 0.42 xG, coupled with a total of 0.48 xA, gives him an expected goal contribution of less than one in almost 300 minutes of football – well off the standard required of a Celtic winger.

Off the ball

Johnston didn’t fare much better off the ball on Sunday, a part of his game which has also been questioned before. According to Wyscout, the winger contested 22 duels, mapped below, winning eight of them (36 per cent).

There was plenty of endeavour from Johnston off the ball at the weekend, but too often he failed to show enough aggression to win the ball back. He was too easily brushed off the ball on several occasions and simply lacks - even now at 24 - the physical attributes to be effective out of possession.


By no means the only one, Johnston completely fell out of the game at Rugby Park and failed to show the ‘personality’ Rodgers has consistently pointed to as a key factor in being a successful Celtic player.

His performance was far from the biggest issue on Sunday of course, while summer signing Palma on the opposite wing was equally poor, if not more so. Johnston would also potentially make a case that he is more effective off the left than the right but Rodgers seems reluctant to move Palma to the other side. All this can make Johnston a potentially easy target. However, this latest attempt at resurrecting Johnston’s Celtic career encapsulates some of the issues of the season so far.

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With injuries to key players - not something the club can totally control, of course -Rodgers has now chosen to turn to the likes of Johnston and Forrest to make things happen on the wing, rather than summer recruits Yang or Tilio. For all their - in Johnston’s case potential, in Forrest’s, his fine service to the club over many years - neither appears to have a long-term future at the club. Ultimately, the situation is another seemingly damming indictment of the business done over the summer (see the centre-back position).

The return of Daizen Maeda and Liel Abada will be more than welcome in the coming weeks while for Johnston, like so many other fringe players who have seen more game time this season than many expected, a parting of the ways in January or next summer seems inevitable.