FORGOTTEN Celt Mikey Johnston could be the ideal replacement for Liel Abada – if, of course, the Israeli winger quits the champions in the summer.
There have been noises that Ange Postecoglou’s £3.5million recruit from Maccabi Petah Tikva in July 2021 may be on his way three years ahead of the expiry date on his contract.
Southampton, threatened by expulsion from the English top flight, have been linked with a £10million bid, but that is likely to be dependent on their league status in the new campaign.
KICKING ON…Mikey Johnston in action for Celtic last season.
Johnston is on his way back to the champions when his temporary transfer in Portugal ends in June and his timing could be highly fortuitous.
Former Hoops goal hero Chris Sutton reckons the Glasgow-born forward, who hit the headlines with his Republic of Ireland debut in midweek, could be ready to pick up the thread of what promised to be a highly enterprising and rewarding career in the east end of Glasgow.
The one-time England international said: “Mikey Johnston has become a bit of a forgotten man at Celtic in recent seasons.
“But his impressive cameo in Dublin might just have served up a handy reminder to his club manager and supporters.
“It’s been a case of out of sight, out of mind for the winger. I imagine there are more than a few Celtic fans who didn’t realise he was still on the books at Parkhead.
“Johnston has been on loan with Vitoria Guimaraes and, while we might not see him every week, he’s obviously showed enough this season to catch the eye of national boss Stephen Kenny.
THE BOSS AND THE PLAYER…Ange Postecoglou and Mikey Johnston at Lennoxtown.
“And he more than took his chance when it arrived in midweek. He was electric when he came off the bench against Latvia and played a huge part in securing the 3-2 win after the Irish were in danger of throwing a two-goal lead out of the window.
“I’m sure plenty of Celtic fans would have been tuning in and wondering: ‘Who is this guy?’
“They won’t have been surprised at some of the jinking runs, though. We all know Johnston is capable of doing that sort of thing. He’s got wonderful feet and a turn of pace.
“The only thing he lacked at Celtic is a consistent run of games without being wrecked by injuries.”
Sutton, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “I got the feeling fans were getting a little impatient with him, but only because they know he’s got talent.
“I like the player as he can change games. I think he’s got something. He seems to have been around forever, but, at 23, he really needs to get his career up and running.
“He should see returning as a massive opportunity for him, playing for a manager who loves his wingers and could get his game to the next level. Perhaps this loan spell will do the job.
HIGH JINKS…Mikey Johnston in mid-air antics during Celtic’s 2-1 Scottish Cup Final victory over Hearts at Hampden on May 25 2019 to seal the treble treble.
“Celtic have moved on in the last 18 months when he was out injured or in Portugal and it’s hard to see where he would fit in when Ange Postecoglou has so many dangerous wide men.
“The likes of Jota, Daizen Maeda, Liel Abada, Sead Haksabanovic and James Forrest, have all played a part.
“That doesn’t leave much room and he’d be going back to the end of the queue. But coming on for the final 30 minutes and making a huge impact? That sounds familiar.
“It’s been the Abada party piece at Parkhead this season – coming off the bench and getting fans on their feet. And with so much uncertainty surrounding Abada’s future, all of a sudden seeing Johnston back on the radar might make a bit of sense.’
Sutton added: “It might all depend on what happens in the summer – especially with Abada.
“It’s a strange situation with him. He has been terrific this season and his numbers in terms of goals and assists are incredible. He has been sensational when coming off the bench all year, but you’ve got to say there have been times when he’s not quite hit the same heights when starting games.
“There might be reasons for that, with teams setting up very defensively early on in games and Abada taking advantage when matches are more stretched. But there is no doubting his quality. The talk about him potentially leaving sounds premature to me.
UP, UP AND AWAY…Liel Abada takes to the air as he hurdles Borna Barisic during Celtic’s 2-1 League Cup Final victory at Hampden last month.
“We don’t know what he is thinking and it all seems to be coming from outside. There’s certainly been no sign of any huffing behind the scenes, but, at the same time, every player wants to be in the starting line-up most weeks.
“Yet it’s clear the manager sees his bench as every bit as important to the side on the pitch at kick-off. Every week we see him make changes around the hour mark and it has a huge influence on games.
“When they are ahead it helps them kick on and win more emphatically. If they are drawing or even behind, it helps turn the game in their favour. All these late goals they keep scoring is no coincidence – it’s down to having such a strong bench.
“Abada has been crucial in that regard, but I would understand a level of frustration. I still think he is not the finished article and would be best advised to stick around a bit longer to keep developing.
“He’s a top talent already, but he’s progressed under Postecoglou and another year or two would help him kick on again.
“We’ve also seen the manager won’t mess around if they do have thoughts about leaving. Eyebrows were raised when Giorgos Giakoumakis and Josip Juranovic were allowed to go, but Postecoglou didn’t hang about in replacing them at the first hint they were for the off.
“I’m sure he would do the same with Abada – but Johnston coming back might just mean he has a replacement already on the books.”