Canada full-back Alistair Johnston’s recent form, as highlighted by Alan Morrison in his article on the in-form Celtic players who could be the difference in the Scottish Premiership title race, has certainly been noteworthy.

Suffering a potentially serious head injury that forced him off at Easter Road in early February, Johnston missed the following game as Celtic spilt two points at home to Kilmarnock the following week. He recovered in time to return to the side for the trip to Motherwell, setting up Adam Idah’s decisive late strike.

He has since been a driving force from right-back in the last few weeks as Celtic – Hearts defeat aside – have started to find a bit of form towards the business end of the season. Here, we take a closer look at the numbers behind the Canadian international’s recent impressive form…

2022/23 v 2023/24

Firstly, let’s take a look at his performances from last season compared to this season. Although it does feel like he has been a Celtic player for a lot longer, the affable Johnston is only just entering his second year at the club, after joining from MLS side Montreal CF in January 2023.

Replacing the dynamic Croatian Josip Juranovic, Johnston brought defensive solidity and tenacious work rate to the backline in his first six months, as shown in the below radar from StatsBomb.

His 22/23 Scottish Premiership minutes, the green, see him standing out in some fundamental defensive metrics such as Tack/Dribbled%, PAdj Tackles & Interceptions and Turnovers.

This season, the yellow, has seen a bit of a drop off in a few of Johnston’s defensive metrics. He has turned the ball over slightly more and he hasn't made as many PAdj Tackles & Interceptions which has likely contributed to a slight drop in his Defensive Action OBV.

That said, his Tack/Dribbled Past% (the percentage of time a player makes a tackle when going into a duel versus getting dribbled past) is up and he has won slightly more of his aerial duels. Ultimately, he has still been defensively steady this season, if maybe not quite at the level of his first six months.

The differences in his activity on the ball have been much more significant. In his first six months, he averaged 9.47 Deep Progressions per 90 and 0.12 Open Play xG Assisted per 90. This season this has jumped to 11.56 Deep Progressions per 90 and 0.22 Open Play xG Assisted per 90. Both his Pass OBV and Dribble and Carry OBV scores are also up. You can read more about StatsBomb calculate their OBV metrics here.

Pre v post-injury 2023/24

Splitting his minutes from this season into pre and post his injury at Hibs reveals just how much of these overall increases in things like efficiency in possession (Deep Progressions) and attacking output (Open Play xG Assisted) can be attributed to his recent run of form.

Before his injury, the yellow in this radar, his Deep Progressions (10.18 per 90) and Open Play xG Assisted (0.15 per 90) were only just above the levels he produced in his first six months last season. The radar probably doesn’t do it justice but in the last four league games these have shot up with Deep Progressions up to 17.63 per 90 and Open Play xG up to 0.54 per 90.

Even some of his defensive stats are up considerably in the last few games, his Aerial Win% up from 55 per cent pre-injury to 77 per cent in the last few weeks. His Tack/Dribbled Past % is up to a rock-solid 100.

Key Passes

That jump in Open Play xG Assisted shows just how much the Canadian has contributed to the increase in Celtic’s attacking threat in the games before the international break – Celtic hit over four xG in their last game before the break against St Johnstone.

They have looked like a particular threat on the right thanks to Johnston but also thanks to the sudden form of January arrival Nicolas Kuhn on the right wing, and Yang Hyun-jun before his suspension too. Matt O’Riley taking up that side of the pitch in midfield is no coincidence either. Often more of a threat down the left, Celtic now look to have a functioning and effective right-hand side with a trio of Johnston, O’Riley and Kuhn/Yang.

The below Key Passes and Assists graphics from StatsBomb further highlight this increase in attacking output from right-back through Johnston. 

In the first graphic, above, we can in the 20 games before his injury in early February, Johnston produced 33 Key Passes worth a total xG of 3.06 (0.09 xG per shot). These didn’t result in one goal.

Contrast with the last four league games, shown above. Here we can see Johnston has provided 10 Key Passes/2 Assists, generating 2.43 xG, almost half (44 per cent) of his season total xG Assisted. At 0.20 xG per shot, the chances he has created in the last few weeks are twice as high in terms of quality too.

In the two maps, Johnston is getting towards the by-line more consistently in the last four games than he was before his injury. More of his key passes have been across the face of the goal and across the six-yard box too. Just two of his key passes found a Celtic teammate in the six-yard box in all of his league games pre-injury.

Mentality shift

In terms of attributing this uptick in form, is likely, as is often the case, down to more than one factor.

Having Cameron Carter-Vickers back alongside him may be one. Carter-Vickers gives more stability to the whole defence but also potentially gives Johnston a greater safety net to then go higher up the pitch to influence play. The increased effectiveness in wing play, from Kuhn and Yang in recent weeks, in front of him has also likely played a part too.

There also seems like a mental aspect though, which perhaps accounts for not only Johnston’s form but also that of the team in general. Reflecting on their reaction to going in at half-time trailing at Motherwell before coming back to win in North Lanarkshire, Johnston revealed:

“It felt like we’ve done a lot of talking as a group and it was about time to just go and put that into action. Everyone played a bit more freely (in the second half) and had a bit of an ‘eff it’ mentality to just go forward, play forward, be aggressive.

“When we play free, when we just play our football, we do show that we a really really top side. That was one of the most enjoyable halves of football I’ve had in a while.”


Whatever the exact reason, Johnston seems to epitomise Celtic’s recent form. There is a case to be made that, albeit over just four/five games, he is producing his best form since his arrival last January.

The return of captain Callum McGregor and Reo Hatate following the international break would provide a more than welcome boost ahead of the run-in while Carter-Vickers avoiding any further injury absence will be key in the remaining weeks of the campaign.

Johnston continuing to show the kind of form he has produced since his injury could be just as defining in Celtic’s pursuit of a silver-lined ending to the season, too.