MIKEY JOHNSTON and Yuki Kobayashi will have to convince Brendan Rodgers they are good enough for first-team places at Celtic.
Neither the Republic of Ireland international winger nor the Japanese centre-back have figured in the champions’ top side this season.
Johnston returned to Parkhead in the summer after a season-long loan at Portuguese top-flight club Vitoria Guimaraes while Kobayashi arrived in January at the end of his contract with Vissel Kobe.
With Filipe Jota leaving in his £25million switch to Saudi Arabia, an opening for another touchline ace emerged at the Hoops and it looked as though it was perfect timing for the returning Glasgow-born performer.
STRIKING COMEBACK…grounded Mikey Johnston scores for the Republic of Ireland the 4-0 Euro 24 win over Gibraltar in midweek.
However, a back injury derailed those hopes while Kobayashi dropped down the central defensive pecking order as Rodgers welcomed Maik Nawrocki, a £4.3million buy from Legia Warsaw, and Gustaf Lagerbielke, at the cost of £3million from Elfsborg, to the club.
Carl Starfelt left for Celta Vigo, but there was also the remarkable resurgence of Liam Scales who appeared to be heading back to Aberdeen for a second successive temporary transfer.
Explaining the players’ situation, Rodgers said: “For me with Mikey, it was just about being fit. Before the window there was a bit of scramble about maybe going out on loan and he was coming off a really nasty back problem where he hadn’t trained.
“Between the end of the window and January he had to prove that he could stay fit, stay robust and build up his football fitness and we’ll see if we can get him some game time, because he’s a talented player.
“Thankfully, he’s been able to do that, gone away with the national team and got minutes and we’ll see between now and January if he gets that game time.
“He gets the chance to prove that every day in training and he looks strong.”
LONE BHOY…Yuki Kobayashi is still waiting for his first Celtic appearance of the season.
On Kobayashi’s situation, the Hoops gaffer, speaking to Celtic TV, added: “I’ve only got 11 players. The squad is too big, that’s the reality of it, so I can’t fit in all the players even into a matchday squad.
“He’s certainly someone who is really professional.
“In fairness to Yuki, he would have gone out on loan and he just got injured just before he went out.
“He’s training really well, it’s not that he’s doing anything wrong. His attitude has been fantastic, working really hard.”
The rundown to the end of the year will be absolutely crucial for Johnston and Kobayashi and it may be that loan deals in January could aid their long-term careers at Parkhead.
The ball is at their feet.