PLAUDITS are nice. But platitudes are wearing thin. Points are better. That could neatly sum up the mood amongst the Celtic players following their latest Champions League disappointment against Lazio on Wednesday night.

Alistair Johnston may be the most laid back and amiable individual in the Scottish game, but you could sense even in the normally sanguine Canadian a simmering anger and frustration as he cast his mind back over what went wrong for his team as they again came unstuck at the top level.

It may be grating for the fans to hear the script about progress and learning from mistakes after much of that spiel was well worn by the same stage of the tournament a year ago, but there is little doubt that Celtic are getting closer to the level required to make a fist of it in the Champions League.

It doesn’t make it any easier to swallow, mind.

And Johnston himself is a little fed-up hearing about how much admiration Celtic are earning through their performances against the European elite, acknowledging the ‘brutal honesty’ that they have to start picking up tangible rewards along with respect.

“Lazio are a very good team,” Johnston said.

“They buried their chances, and we didn’t. So, at the end of the day, we can’t really hold our hands up and say we deserved more. They’re the team that scored more than us and that’s the brutal honesty about football.

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“I do feel there were really good spells for us, especially in the second half when we looked really comfortable. That’s something we can take and grow as a team. But we also need to find a way to win that game.

“We want to be at that next step where we use the crowd and find a way to win. That’s why it’s really frustrating, not just not finding a winner, but to then lose a goal in that fashion in the 95th minute is so frustrating.

“When we keep 11 men on the pitch, we look quite good. I think we’ve gained quite a bit of respect, but at the same time we don’t just want respect. We want points on the board.

“So, it’s about finding that ruthlessness in both areas. Conceding a set-piece goal is frustrating for us. And then conceding a goal like that in the 95th minute is really frustrating.

“We really felt like we were in the ascendancy and potentially could have had a winner that was chopped off. But that’s football. We need to learn from that and build on it.”

There is, according to Johnston, more levels to come from this Celtic team. But is it also fair to say there remains a naivety about them that has to be discarded before they can fulfil that potential?

“It could be harsh, but at the same time it’s not far off,” he said.

“It’s finding that balance when you have this crowd and who are such an instrumental part of how we play and who can be such a weapon – how do we use that to our advantage? Sometimes you need to balance it.

“We’re in the ascendancy, can we find a winner? But at the same time that doesn’t mean going forward at all costs and conceding one at the back. But we’re trying to find that balance still.

“The Champions League is all about moments. There’s too much quality on the pitch and you have a moment where you make a mental error, and these teams are so good that they will punish you. Again, that’s another stepping stone for us and we’ll only be better from that experience.

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“At the moment, though, this is a group that is frustrated. We feel that we should be at another level altogether and not losing matches like that.

“It’s one that we’re going to learn from, but it’s a frustrating night.”

It has long been a theory that the difference in level of competition between European and domestic fronts hampers the Old Firm when they step up to face the continent’s best, and while Johnston agrees with the theory to a point, he says the adjustment to the foul threshold of the officials is just as challenging.

“I think it’s difficult for us,” he said.

“Potentially a lot of the fouls out there we get away with in the Scottish Premiership. They let a little bit more go on whereas out here it’s the Champions League, the beautiful game, and they want to hone in on some of those fouls.

“That’s sometimes a little bit of a struggle for us, that changing of the game. But I thought we played well. We had moments. I'm going through the match in my head and the moments are flashing up.

“It’s amazing some of the quality that some of the players have and they can step up to these moments and these experiences and live it and not be overwhelmed it.

“Teams are ruthless and clinical. If you give up a half-chance, which potentially you might get away with in the Scottish Premiership, then you won’t get away with it here. That’s something we just need to be smart with.

“There were a couple of mistakes made, but it’s football, mistakes are going to happen. It’s about can you recover it and not let it snowball.

“But it was a great cross and a great header from Pedro. At the end of the day, it’s just good football, and sometimes you just have to accept that.”