Celtic’s Old Firm victory at Ibrox has helped fuel a collective belief among the Scottish champions that they can embark on a successful Europa League campaign next week, according to Mikey Johnston.
The winger savoured the 2-0 win over Rangers 11 days ago as much as any Celtic player, having played in both of their defeats at Ibrox last season.
Johnston believes Celtic have now put the disappointment of their Champions League elimination against Cluj firmly behind them as they look forward to kicking off their Europa League Group E schedule against Rennes in France next Thursday.
“It’s generally been a positive start to the season,” said the 20-year-old. “Everyone was gutted we didn’t qualify for the Champions League group stage. That was a bad time for the club. But we have picked ourselves up and done well since then. Getting into the Europa League group stage and beating Rangers at Ibrox has lifted the mood.
“Celtic is a club that needs Europe, it’s where the fans want to see us doing well. It’s a good draw for us. The atmosphere at Celtic Park on European nights is second to none. That’s what the fans crave.
“It’s great for the players to look forward to as well. We want to beat the best teams put in front of us. Hopefully we can get through the group into the knockout stages. I don’t see why not. Everyone in our squad feels the same way.
“The win at Ibrox was good – obviously a lot better than the previous two I’d played in last season. I was delighted we got the win. There is always a pressure going into a game at Ibrox – especially when you’ve lost there twice before. We maybe had a bit of a point to prove.
“It’s only the start of the season but we were delighted to get the first win against them. The circumstances were different going into it this time. We felt we had to win the game.”
As well as facing early Ligue 1 pace-setters Rennes, Celtic will take on top seeds Lazio and have a chance for revenge against Romanian champions Cluj in their Europa League group.
“I watched the game on TV recently when Rennes beat PSG 2-1 and they looked a decent side,” said Johnston, speaking at the launch of the SPFL Match Attax 2019-20 trading card game.
“Every team at this stage of the Europa League will be a decent side. We are not going to take it lightly. Hopefully we can score over there next week. A win away from home would be an unbelievable start. We would take that.
“Everyone thinks we should have done a lot better against Cluj in the Champions League, so hopefully we can rectify that. We possibly have a point to prove against them.
“Lazio are favourites to win the group but I think that will be an equal game. Celtic are a massive club as well. The Olympic Stadium in Rome will be an unbelievable place to go.
“I’ve never been to Rome before. It will be quite hostile but they will have the same when they come to Celtic Park. They will be two tough games.”
Johnston was forced to withdraw from the Scotland under-21 squad last week and will miss Celtic’s return to Premiership action at Hamilton on Saturday.
“I won’t be fit for this weekend but I should be back after that,” he added. “I’ve got a hip strain, but nothing major. I’ll get reassessed after the weekend and hopefully be available for Rennes.”
l Mikey Johnston was speaking at the SPFL Match Attax 2019/20 launch – for more info follow @ToppsMatchAttax on Twitter and Facebook, @toppsmatchattax_ on Instagram and subscribe to on YouTube