A day or two before Celtic set off for their pre-season tour of Austria and Switzerland, the travelling journalists were granted an audience with Mikey Johnston at Lennoxtown. It was just a few weeks after a season of ups and downs for the young winger had come to an end, but there seemed to be something different about him.

Had he bulked up a bit? Yes, but not so much in that short spell as to be hugely noticeable. A new haircut, perhaps? Nope, the short back and sides with the curly mop-top was still in place.

Then, as a question was put to him about whether he believed he could nail down a regular place as a starter for Celtic in the coming season, we had our answer before he had even opened his mouth.

The look on his face was one of incredulity, the determination in his eyes clear before he had uttered a word. “Why not?” came the deadpan reply. Anyone who has been watching him over the pre-season campaign and into the first leg of the Champions League qualifier against FK Sarajevo on Tuesday night would agree, why not indeed?

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The feeling from within the Celtic camp over the trip was that this is a big season for Johnston, and he knows it too. You can sense it just sitting in his company.

His blockbuster of a goal that dragged Celtic level in Bosnia, just as the away leg of the tie was threatening to get away from them a little the other night, was hugely impressive in both the technique and its timing. He has been taking the ball in tight areas like he did in the build-up to his strike and running at opponents all summer, but this time, he had an eye-popping end-product to go along with it.

Watching Johnston can put you in mind of a young Aiden McGeady at times, but just as he had to work on the final part of his game and prove that he wasn’t all style with no substance, so Johnston proved with that swing of his right boot that he has a booming finish in his locker to back up the flicks and finesse.

During the three warm-up matches that Celtic played over the summer, Johnston was by far the stand-out player. He scored twice against SC Pinkafeld and set up two more after coming on at the interval, taking the armband to lead a young Celtic outfit in that second 45 minutes. He followed that up with a dazzling first-half display against Wiener-Sport Club, before impressing again in the goalless draw against St Gallen.

Despite having scored five times in 23 appearances last term, it felt as though Johnston hadn’t quite made that transition to a genuine first-team player, but to then get a goal at such a crucial juncture of a Champions League qualifier – and in such crushing style – feels like it could be a breakout moment in the 20-year-old’s breakthrough season.

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What Johnston has in spades too is the vital quality missing from some players of comparable talent who haven't gone on and quite made the most of their careers. Call it self-belief, balls, maybe even a little arrogance. This kid has it.

You only need to look at the experience he went through last year, having taken plenty of stick following Celtic’s defeat at Ibrox in late December where he was pitched in as a lone striker, barely saw the ball and did nothing of note with what little scraps came his way.

The fault that afternoon lay at the feet of his manager rather than his own, but it would have been easy for the young man to shrink into his shell after such a chastening experience, and even more so when his second start at Ibrox ended in another defeat in May. In the very next game though, Johnston dusted himself down, picked himself up, and scored a double against Hearts. That showed resilience. Guts.

What he now needs to do is influence games such as those powder-keg fixtures at Ibrox where he previously fell flat. As mentioned, he has bulked up, but he does need to fill out some more. Be in no doubt that he is working hard to do just that.

Delivering consistently will be the next challenge. His five goals last season came in just three games, with three in two consecutive matches against Motherwell and Dundee in December before the double against Hearts in May. He has shown us all now what he has in his locker, but can he bring that to the table week-in, week-out? He will have to if he is to keep Scott Sinclair on the bench, a player who has plenty of critics, but who always posts the numbers in terms of goals and assists.

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If he can, Celtic and Scotland have a real player on their hands. It’s up to him. My bet is, he’s up to the task.


Ah, there's never a dull moment around Firhill way, eh? And there certainly wasn't yesterday as the comings and goings in the Partick Thistle boardroom made the power struggles in Game of Thrones appear a little dull by comparison.

First, there was the cleaning out of the old guard, with chairman Jacqui Low, Duncan Smillie and Michael Robertson falling on their sword, before the coronation of Beattie as returning chairman and three others joining him in head of finance David Kelly, Ronnie Gilfillan and Norman Springford.

Then came confirmation from Beattie that the club were assessing the viability of potential new investment, as he also made a point of taking a flame-thrower to the previous incumbent's claims last week that rumours of such a possibility were purely speculative.

That was a little unedifying, particularly as Low - no matter your views on her competency in the role - was always steadfastly dedicated to it.

That is the past though, so what of the future? Well, I don't think you need to be Bran Stark to see that change is a-coming, and it looks to be a seismic one at that.

It may well be for the benefit of Thistle in the short and long-term, but fans may also have to accept that it comes with the caveat of becoming a feeder club for Barnsley and OGC Nice, the other concerns of potential new owner Chien Lee and his NewCity Capital private equity firm.