IT was the moment that Mikey Johnston had long dreamed about. Named as the starting striker in an Old Firm derby for Celtic. Unfortunately for both he and his teammates though, that afternoon at Ibrox turned into something of a nightmare.

The defeat in late December was seen at the time as a potentially pivotal moment in the title race, swinging momentum the way of Rangers as they moved level on points with the reigning champions.

Given the abject nature of the Celtic display, and the fact that it was the last fixture before the three-week winter break, there was nowhere to hide as the long, painful post-mortem was carried out with forensic precision.

Upon their return to action, Celtic immediately set about exorcising the ghosts of that afternoon at Ibrox, and you feel that Johnston, who took his fair share of flak despite his tender years, is still shaking it off.

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The chance to put it to bed for good was passed up when Celtic were defeated again at Ibrox in May, but with the title already sewn up thanks to victory at Aberdeen the previous week, it was Celtic who had the last laugh. And the way he personally picked himself up off the canvas days after the second Rangers loss, was proof positive to Johnston he is made of the right stuff to withstand the slings and arrows that come with the territory of being a Celtic player.

“Sometimes maybe the blame gets put on players like me, being a younger player,” Johnston said. “But these things hold you in good stead for the future, and these are the sort of games that you will always learn from.

“Sometimes maybe the blame gets put on players like me, being a younger player. But these things hold you in good stead for the future, and these are the sort of games that you will always learn from. If you can come back from games like that, you’ll be fine.

“I got played in the one at Ibrox when we got beaten a second time in May, and that was really disappointing, but I came back the following week and scored two against Hearts, and I think that silenced a lot of people.”

As well as silencing the snipers, Johnston has been encouraging the vast majority of Celtic supporters who are desperate for another of their own products to establish themselves in the first-team with his performances on the whole, and with his refusal to buckle under the glare when things don’t quite go to plan.

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If he can ally that determination and talent he undoubtedly has to becoming more robust and finding a more consistent end product, then he sees no reason why this can’t be his big breakout season.

“I’d a couple of setbacks that probably stopped my development a wee bit, but then I got back into the team again and I did alright,” he said. “I’ve just been working hard every day to try and get chances.

“I think it’s a very big season, in terms of hopefully establishing myself as a starter at Celtic. I hope I can do that.

“I feel that, if I’m performing in training, and turning up in games and getting goals and assists, that I’m going to play. The best players are going to play and it’s the ones who are performing who will get picked.

“It doesn’t matter who you are. Look at the manager recently giving young Karamoko Dembele a chance, and he’s only 16. So the manager has shown that he trusts young players.

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“I think I need to find a bit of consistency. If I was playing week-in, week-out I’d need to be able to show that I can perform every week for Celtic. There is a lot of pressure here and you’ve got to show that you are worthy and that you can play every week and score goals and get assists and excite the fans.

“If I work hard, and play every week, was scoring goals, and I keep my confidence high, I don’t see why [I can’t be a regular].

“I think there can be a lot of times when you can doubt yourself, by listening to all the stuff on the outside, if you’ve not had a good game. But I think if you don’t believe in yourself, you won’t go as far as you could do.”

Celtic arrived in Austria yesterday for their pre-season tour, where they will take on Pinkafeld in the first of three friendlies tomorrow night.

It is a chance for all of the players to impress their now permanent manager Neil Lennon, but for young players like Johnston, it is undoubtedly a particularly golden opportunity to show him what they are capable of.

“Last year [going to Austria] really helped me because you are there 24/7 with everyone and you can get to know people,” Johnston said.

“It was really good for me last year, being a young boy, so it will be good for all the young boys who are going to be going away this year. It will be a chance for them to show [what they can do], and you don’t get a chance to show as much during the season as you do in pre-season.

“I’ve had quite a lot of games now but I don’t feel a proper first-team player yet. But it is going in that direction, I hope. If I keep working hard I think I can establish myself.”