Honours Even As Alistair Johnston Shines In Celtic Debut

Honours Even As Alistair Johnston Shines In Celtic Debut

Two days into his move from CF Montreal to Celtic becoming official, Alistair Johnston stunned many on either side of the Atlantic by making his debut against Rangers at Ibrox. It’s a fixture that can define the careers of Celtic players, and how Johnston got on in this fixture will go along way toward how he is portrayed by the Celtic faithful

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Overall it was a surprising lineup from Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou. Rather than starting proven wingers in this fixture in Liel Abada and Felipe Jota, Postecoglou opted for veteran presence in thirty-one year old James Forrest to play in front of Johnston, who hadn’t played football since December 1st.

Ibrox as expected had a white-hot cauldron atmosphere, a win for Michael Beal’s side would cut the gap at the top of the Scottish Premiership to six points and the home side was looking to off to a strong start, but despite an initial fast start, Johnston and the rest of the Celtic defence stood firm, and it would be soon followed by the perfect start

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Under no pressure, Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos played a ball across the pitch which was quickly intercepted by Celtic winger Daizen Maeda. Maeda continued his run past Rangers captain James Tavernier to go through in goal and after squeezing the ball past Alan McGregor, suddenly Alistair Johnston found himself part of a winning team five minutes into an Old Firm game.

Alistair Johnston celebrates a goal from a Glasgow Celtic team-mate Daizen Maeda in his first match for the Scottish club on Monday. (GETTY IMAGES/IAN MACNICOL)

From that point, Celtic took control of the game, dominating the possession and allowing Johnston to settle comfortably into his debut. The winger in front of him James Forrest had a first half to forget, which limited the chances Johnston had to provide a threat on the overlap as Forrest often proved unable to hold onto the ball, but whenever Johnston did get the ball in dangerous situations, he was finding himself putting into deliveries that left the Rangers defence on their heels. During this period however Celtic weren’t able to create any clear cut chances, indeed they were held to just having to resort to balls across the box that couldn’t be capitalised on, and the game would soon dramatically change with two incidents.

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Twenty minutes in, Celtic’s ever-consistent left-back Greg Taylor was forced off with an injury, replaced by Croatian right-back Josip Juranovic who was fresh off the back of a third-place finish at the World Cup. But despite this pedigree, Juranovic is right-footed, and Celtic’s entire left side was now right-footed, including left-sided centre-back Carl Starfelt. The left-hand side of the pitch for Celtic now felt awkward and janky, with Juranovic and Maeda both naturally looking to go inside and disrupting any natural left-sided width. Shortly after, Celtic goalkeeper Joe Hart received the ball under very little pressure but allowed Alfredo Morelos to close him down and then chaos assumed, the ball bounced around the Celtic box eventually falling to winger Ryan Kent who forced Hart to tip the ball on the post. After having offered nothing throughout the game, suddenly the Ibrox crowd had something to get behind and Rangers finished the first half as the far stronger team. Johnston finished the first half with an eighty-eight pass completion percentage and a one-hundred percent record in his tackles and duels.

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If Celtic were hoping they survived the onslaught with the halftime whistle, they were mistaken. Josip Juranovic, who was already having a very bad game had a nightmare start to the second half. From a long ball, Juranovic misjudged the flight of the ball which allowed Fashion Sakala to get behind him and play in Ryan Kent. Kent was being marked by Johnston, and the Canadian showed Kent the inside which gave Kent the opportunity to curl an effort towards goal and past Joe Hart, suddenly it was 1-1. Despite being on his side of the pitch, it’s hard to blame Johnston for this goal, it was simply a great finish from a player who relishes this occasion.

Ryan Kent is congratulated for his equalising goal. (Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Barely any time later, Juranovic is once again beaten far too easily by Sakala, forcing Carl Starfelt to overcommit on a slide tackle, leaving referee John Beaton no choice but to award a penalty. Set piece specialist and captain James Tavernier steps up to the spot and blasted the ball into the net, just fifty-three minutes into the second half and it was now 2-1 Ranger, Alistair Johnston and Celtic had a mountain to climb.

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Johnston was doing his part, holding his own against the Rangers attack and not being shy to get on the ball but nothing was working for Celtic going forward. There was a very legitimate claim for a penalty when Rangers defender Connor Goldston looked to have handled the ball in his penalty area, but it was waved away by the referee and indeed if any team was looking likely to score – it was Rangers.

Ange Postecoglou made the changes. Off came Matt O’Riley, James Forrest, Daizen Maeda, and Reo Hatate – on came Aaron Mooy, Liel Abada, Jota, and Giorgos Giakoumakis. It looked like it would come to no avail, but it paid off with just two minutes left. A combination of Mooy, Jota, and Giakoumakis managed to get the ball to Celtic’s top scorer Kyogo Furuhashi, and the Japanese talisman made mistake to grab an improbable equaliser for his side!

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND – JANUARY 02:Alistair Johnston of Celtic celebrates after Kyogo Furuhashi of Celtic equalises for Celtic in the 87th minute (2-2) during the Cinch Scottish Premiership match between Rangers FC and Celtic FC(Richard Callis/MB Media/Getty Images)

The rest of the game played out and passed by, Alistair Johnston and Celtic stole a point at the death of this game, maintains their nine point lead at the top of the Scottish Premiership. Despite being thrown into the toughest possible fixture he can play for Celtic this season, Johnston excelled with five tackles won, six duels won, one interception and clearance a piece and a pass completion percentage of ninety-three percent. Not many players for Celtic on the day played well, but that certainly can’t be said about Johnston, who has made a great start to his Celtic career!


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