ALISTAIR JOHNSTON was a screen gem the first time Brendan Rodgers witnessed him in action.

The future Celt was performing for Canada in the winter World Cup Finals in Qatar when the second time-around Hoops boss took notice of his defensive skills while watching on television four months before he left Leicester City.

Johnston looked comfortable mixing with the football elite as his country faced Croatia – with the predecessor Josip Juranovic in the No 2 berth – Belgium and Morocco.

HEADS, I WIN…Alistair Johnston climbs high to beat Josip Juranovic to the ball as Canada take on Croatia in the World Cup Finals.

The Canadians lost all three of their group games in their first appearance in the soccer showpiece in 36 years, but the energetic right-back enhanced his reputation to the extent the champions forked out £3.5million to sign him from MLS outfit CF Montreal in December with the switch rubber-stamped when the transfer window re-opened the following month.

Johnston was thrown in the first team for his debut in the 2-2 derby draw at Ibrox at the turn of the year and went on to play his part in his new side’s silverware clean sweep as he picked up three winners’ medals in the space of a mere five months.

Unfortunately, the 24-year-old attack-minded defender suffered a recurrence of an ankle injury while playing for his nation against the USA in the summer and has yet to kick a ball in competitive action for the Irishman.

Johnston returned to light training last week and Rodgers said: “I remember seeing him at the World Cup. He was outstanding for Canada. I thought at the time when he arrived in January it was a really good buy for Celtic.

SHOVE OFF…Alistair Johnston displays his determination as he challenges Borna Barisic in the League Cup Final at Hampden in February.

PUSH OFF…Barisic retaliates as he thrusts his left hand at the Celtic defender. 

YELLOW PERIL…referee Nick Walsh steps in to book both combatants.

“He’s a talented player and you get the sense from talking to him that he’s very ambitious and committed. He wants to do well. It’s just been a real shame with the injury he’s had that he’s been out.

“But Alistair is a really strong boy and, speaking to the staff and the players, he’s really highly rated here. I’m looking forward to seeing him more.”

Rodgers, speaking to the Daily Record, added: “People know his character and his personality. It has never changed. He’s stayed positive and got on with his work.

“He’s back earlier than expected – and that says it all. It shows how hard he has worked.

“Alistair’s very determined to improve and develop as a player. He wants to continue to win. It will be good to work with him.”

There is no timeline for Johnston’s return to first-team action and it could be some time next month before he makes his first appearance for his admiring gaffer.

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