BRENDAN RODGERS has revealed he convinced Mikey Johnston to stay at Celtic in the summer and fight for a first-team place.
The Republic of Ireland international returned to the champions after a season-long loan at Portuguese top-flight outfit Vitoria Guimaraes.
Johnston was suffering from back injury problems in the summer and has remained out of the manager’s plans until his substitute appearance in the goalless draw against Hibs at Easter Road on Saturday.
There was speculation the winger could be on his way out of the club on another temporary transfer before the window closed on September 1.
GREEN FOR GO…Mikey Johnston slides in to score for the Republic of Ireland in their 4-0 Euro 24 win over Gibraltar earlier this month.
Rodgers, though, believed he still had something to contribute to the Hoops as he prepared for his second stint in the Parkhead dug-out after replacing Spurs-bound Ange Postecoglou in June.
The Northern Irishman said: “I played Mikey here when he was 18 years of age and he’s now a 24-year-old man.
“He hasn’t quite had the run here as he would have liked. It’s now quite a big period for him because he wants to establish himself somewhere as a starter, whether that’s going to be here or elsewhere.
“I want to ensure that from the training perspective I’m seeing enough for him to warrant that opportunity in the games and let him see if he can earn that.
“You don’t just get presented it, you’ve got to produce.
“But he knows he’s at an age where he wants to be a first-team regular.”
CHEER WE GO…Mikey Johnston holds aloft the League Cup after the 2-1 win over Hibs in December 2021.
Rodgers, speaking to the Scottish Sun, continued: “What’s great is that he’s fit.
“I think towards the end of the last window there was maybe a rush and maybe him feeling he needs to get out on loan, but at that stage, he hadn’t trained with the team.
“What I said to him was: ‘Stay until January and prove you can be fit and get yourself to a level where you can train every day and then make yourself available’.
“I said to him: ‘The last thing you need is to go out now. You’re not fit and then you go somewhere and break down again’.
“As much as you want to play, you have to be available to play, and you have to be able to train to play.”
The Hoops gaffer, preparing for tomorrow night’s Premiership encounter with St Mirren at Parkhead, added: “Thankfully, over these last couple of months, we’ve seen that.
“He’s not missed a day’s training. He’s finding that robustness and getting up to game speed now.
CAPITAL SHOW…Mikey Johnston on the ball during his comeback in the 0-0 draw at Easter Road.
“He’s earned his chance to come in and play, but it’s a big squad and that’s what I’ve got to look at.
“But certainly, he warranted the opportunity to come in and affect the game.”
There was a glimpse of the old Johnston in Edinburgh at the weekend when he sprinted in from the left to unleash a powerful right-footed 25-yard piledriver at the Hibs goal as the visitors desperately sought the elusive barrier-breaking strike.
Unfortunately for Johnston, ex-Celtic keeper David Marshall threw himself full-length to his right to claw the ball away from its intended target.
Maybe he’ll have better luck against St Mirren.