Arguably, Celtic's 3-1 home victory over an admittedly limited St Johnstone side saw cohesion and an attacking threat (over four xG) that hinted at form that would encourage the support for the remainder of the campaign if maintained.

I have written many times this season with reservations and concerns. Some areas cannot be changed now. Joe Hart is not the player he once was and three months out from retirement that is not going to change. Greg Taylor will continue to provide effort and energy from the left back area with all the well-documented limitations in evidence. There will likely not be a centre-back partner for Cameron Carter-Vickers that is of the same standard as the imperious American. And the wing play will continue to be erratic.

But there have been some bright sparks of hope in the last few weeks - despite the Heart of Midlothian defeat - which can be seen as solid foundations upon which to build a run of must-win performances.

Alistair Johnston

When the Canadian was knocked out cold at Easter Road in early February, we cursed the luck that another core performer might be sidelined for an extended period. He missed two matches including dropped points at home to Kilmarnock but has been in remarkable form since returning.

Pre-face injury, he averaged 10 recoveries per game and in the last five since that is 13. He averaged 53 completed open play passes to 83 since. Progressive runs are up from 1.8 to three per game. And he is getting into the opposition box 2.4 times versus 1.6 pre-bang. The number of crosses successful and attempted has rocketed from 0.6 / 3.8 to 2.8 successful from 8.4 attempted. Consequently, his xA90 has gone from 0.23 pre-injury to 0.61 in the five matches post.

Maybe some bionic implant was put into his face as his average overall packing score was 93 but in the last five matches, it has nearly doubled to 174. Crucially he is taking 5.8 defenders out of the game as opposed to 2.3 up to start February. Let’s hope this form continues!

Cameron Carter-Vickers

Another 75 minutes run out against St Johnstone followed by hopefully two weeks of building strength and conditioning for the imposing defender. He is simply unreplaceable, as shown on Saturday when the defence wobbled after he departed.

His sporadic appearances since mid-December 2023 had seen him look laboured in movement and his average defensive action success rate in that period was a poor 72 per cent - put him in the bottom quadrant of my centre-back defensive actions assessment framework.The last two games have seen that defensive action success score rise to a more normal 84 per cent.

A fit and firing Carter-Vickers is a real game-changer for the run-in.

Tomoki Iwata

Since joining the club, the former J-League Player of the Year has never had a run of four games playing the majority of minutes AND in the same position, until now. Last season he was used in midfield and as a centre-back including in the Scottish Cup Final.

The last five matches following injury to captain Callum McGregor, has been the first time in more than a year at the club he has played his favoured midfield position for five matches in a row. Iwata is not going to be a spectacular attacker, although his expected scoring contribution over those five matches is a respectable 0.24 per 90 minutes.

He doesn’t change the tempo like McGregor can with thrilling drives or upping the pace of passing when necessary. He is a steady metronomic type of player who also reads the play well and covers the defence. He is averaging 62 completed passes compared to 65 by McGregor but he is taking 26 opponents out of the game with forward passes whilst McGregor is averaging 24.

The St Johnstone game saw him in the box with the ball four times and he missed a virtual open goal with a header late on. Those surges into the box are rarer from McGregor these days – 0.92 per game compared to 1.2 from Iwata in his mini-residency.

Sometimes players just need time and space to build their rhythm and confidence. It will be fascinating to see what happens when McGregor returns as Iwata has grown to be a more than adequate cover.

James Forrest

The paucity of wing play has been a recurring theme throughout my writing season. What a story it would be if the old gunslinger rides into town and restored order for one last time.

Forrest’s nous and decision-making are in stark contrast to the high-risk and erratic wing play of Luis Palma, Nicolas Kuhn and Yang Hyun-Jun. Forrest appears almost ‘old school’ in his more circumspect style of wide play compared to the serial risk-takers more prevalent in modern football. But as an impact substitute, this may be the contrast Celtic need. Intelligence and sound judgement late in games to help see them over the line.

An expected scoring contribution of 1.26 in 41 minutes over the last two matches is also potent. Six touches of the ball in the box, a goal and an assist to boot. Forrest may not be a game changer anymore but he can be a game saver. Celtic have been erratic and conceded 32 per cent of their goals in the last ten minutes of matches – i.e. from the 81st minute onwards.

 He won’t add defensively to a material degree but wise decision-making in the final third may limit breaks and allow greater overall attacking control thus reducing risk.

Nicolas Kuhn

Is the only January signing of note now ready to become a Celtic starter?

Beset by weight loss resulting from a wisdom tooth treatment, his early appearances were timid and worrisome. Some had already cast him as a dud in the fast-paced world of online judgment.

Not fully fit and with Yang’s suspension opening the right-wing berth, he has sparkled in those last two matches. Ryan McGinlay wrote about his role in the St Johnstone game here.

Supplementing that, he completed 16 progressive runs in those appearances, getting into the box 27 times and creating 10 chances. Additionally, he has had four shots resulting in one goal from a total xG of 0.89. His packing score average is 181, all from 139 minutes of play.

Livingston and St Johnstone are two of the weakest opponents and Celtic were at home, but these are very impressive, prolific numbers.

A fast-paced productive Kuhn - backed up by the Forrest experience - may see a more robust right-sided attack worthy of a successful last eight matches.

Kyogo Furuhashi

The Japanese forward wears his heart in his smile. The infectious smile has been missing for much of the season as erratic wing play, the increased prominence of early and difficult through balls, and more random ‘crosses’ into the box have failed to get the most out of Celtic’s penalty box surgeon.

Ryan wrote about his partnership with Kuhn here. It is always surprising to me how fragile form and cohesion are. And that works both ways. Could having another forward on his wavelength be the catalyst for the usual prolific Kyogo to flourish?

1.45 xG against St Johnstone from a season-best equalling five shots, a season-high eight touches in the box, as well as an intuitive assist for Kuhn all provide promising glimpses of him finding his feet under Brendan Rodgers.


The returning McGregor as well as Reo Hatate will further strengthen Celtic and crucially remove some of the midfield burden from Matt O’Riley who has become the workhorse of the season. Will Stephen Welsh also prove to be the partner for Carter-Vickers? Many questions for sure and as noted above known risks.

However, if the more experienced players are all running into form at the right time, Celtic will be difficult to stop in the quest for three in a row.