MIKEY JOHNSTON was as gutted as anyone at Celtic when the club missed out on the Champions League group stage this season, and not least of all because he feels that the higher the calibre of opposition he is facing, the more it benefits his own already rapid development.

That’s why he was relieved that Celtic managed to lift themselves and overcome AIK to reach the Europa League group stage, and particularly so when he saw the standard of opposition that came out of the hat.

Not only were Serie A giants Lazio drawn out along with French cracks Rennes, but there was also an opportunity to show what he and Celtic had learned from their Champions League qualifying exit as they got a second crack at Cluj, and Johnston is relishing the opportunity to show what he can do against such a calibre of opponent.

“I think it will definitely help bring my own game on,” Johnston said. “You want to play at the best level you can. If you play against better teams, it’s going to help you improve. The opposition are better going forward, they will cause us more problems defensively.

“Everyone was gutted we didn’t qualify for the Champions League group stage. That was a bad time for the club. But we have picked ourselves up and done well since then.

“Getting into the Europa League group stage and beating Rangers at Ibrox has lifted the mood.

“Celtic is a club that needs Europe, it’s where the fans want to see us doing well. It’s a good draw for us. The atmosphere at Celtic Park on European nights is second to none. That’s what the fans crave. It’s great for the players to look forward to as well.

“We want to beat the best teams put in front of us. Hopefully we can get through the group into the knockout stages. I don’t see why not. Everyone feels the same way.”

Johnston and Celtic have some experience of facing their first opponents Rennes as well as Cluj, with the clubs playing out a goalless pre-season friendly in the summer.

He didn’t play in that match, but he found out everything he needed to know about them when he tuned into their recent victory over Paris Saint Germain.

“I watched the game on TV recently when they beat PSG 2-1 and they looked a decent side,” he said. “But we will find out next week.

“Every team at this stage of the Europa League will be a decent side. We are not going to take it lightly.

“Hopefully we can score over there. A win away from home would be an unbelievable start. We would take that.

“I think [Lazio] will be an equal game. Celtic are a massive club as well. The Olympic Stadium in Rome will be an unbelievable place to go. I’ve never been to Rome before. I think it will be quite hostile but they will have the same when they come to Celtic Park. They will be two tough games.

“Everyone thinks we should have done a lot better against Cluj in the Champions League, so hopefully we can rectify that.”

Another fillip for Johnston was the win over Rangers prior to the international break, with the winger happy to exorcise the demons of two bruising encounters at Ibrox last season with a hugely impressive personal and collective showing.

“It was good - obviously a lot better than the previous two I’d played in last season,” he said. “I was delighted we got the win.

“There is always a pressure going into a game at Ibrox - especially when you’ve lost there twice before. We maybe had a bit of a point to prove.

“It’s only the start of the season but we were delighted to get the first win against them.”

*Johnston was speaking at the SPFL Match Attax 2019/20 launch – for more news and info follow @ToppsMatchAttax on Twitter and Facebook, @toppsmatchattax_ on Instagram and subscribe to MatchAttaxOFFICIAL on YouTube