PLAYING for Celtic can be challenging even when everything is going according to plan.

The Parkhead club are expected to win every game and competition they are involved in domestically by their legions of ultra-passionate supporters around the world and there is a constant pressure on those who wear the green and white hooped jersey to perform to their very best.

But the past month or so will have proved particularly exacting for Brendan Rodgers’ charges.

Costly draws with Aberdeen away and Kilmarnock at home have enabled their resurgent city rivals Rangers to leapfrog them into pole position in the cinch Premiership table for the first time in two long years.

Then on Sunday they passed up the chance – which was unexpectedly presented to them when the league leaders were beaten at home by Motherwell on Saturday - to reclaim first place in the table when they lost to Hearts at Tynecastle.

The mental and physical demands on Cameron Carter-Vickers and his team mates, who take on Livingston in the quarter-finals of the Scottish Gas Scottish Cup in the East End of Glasgow on Sunday, in the coming weeks promise to be considerable.

Yet, Alistair Johnston, the Celtic right back who returned from a two-and-a-half week injury lay-off in the triumph over Motherwell at Fir Park last month, is confident they all have the minerals required to deal with what promises to be a fraught end to the 2023/24 campaign. 

The Canadian internationalist rubbished suggestions the dressing room was “disjointed” and expressed complete conviction they have the resolve required to put the weekend reverse behind them, achieve their objectives and lift more silverware.

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“Interesting,” he said. “I haven’t heard the disjointed part. The locker room is really together again. We have got great leaders. We have got guys like Cal [Callum McGregor] and Joe [Hart] and James [Forrest] who have played in difficult run-ins and lifted all kinds of trophies.

“There are quite a few guys in that locker room who won it last year and who understand what it takes to win. So I think there is that confidence and that self-belief there for sure.

The Herald: “With it being Joe’s last season we want to send him off right. So there are things like that as well. The confidence is definitely there, the togetherness is there. I haven’t really noticed any difference from last year when I came in to this year.”

Johnston is adamant the defending champions, who are just two points off spot and still have to face Philippe Clement’s men twice, can retain the Premiership trophy come May if they play to their full potential.

“There is still a really good group of guys who come in here and work hard every day and who fight for each other,” he said. “I am really excited for these next few months, it is a chance to play our football. If we do that, anything is possible.

“All that really matters is what is in that room over there and at the end of the day what is in that room is what is going to take us to the title or not. It comes down to that, it is down to us, it is in our control. There is nothing more to add.”

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Johnston and his fellow Celtic players have been booed by their own supporters after disappointing results, criticised by media pundits on radio phone-ins and television programmes following draws and defeats and savaged by online snipers on social media when their form has fallen short of the standards expected.

But the full-back, who quickly established himself as a regular first team starter after he was signed from Montreal in his homeland in January last year and has performed consistently well in defence and attack since, has no difficulty escaping from the madness and recharging his batteries.

They say that a dog is a man’s best friend and that is certainly the case for him – he revealed that taking out his black Labrador Retriever Salem out for walks helps to take his mind off things. 

Asked if he ever found it tough to cope with life in the Glasgow goldfish bowl, he said: “Me? I don’t find it difficult. If you are on the social media platforms you will maybe get a bit of it. But a lot of us don’t really read that stuff. You just keep doing what you do in your normal life.

“All of us have hobbies outside of football so we just stick to that. I have a dog, a black Lab called Salem, so I walk the dog and do things like that. The days pass and you can just focus on other things and not get too wound up about a title race. I have other things in my life.”

The Herald: Johnston appreciates that those players who joined after their treble-winning season, the likes of Paulo Bernardo, Odin Thiago Holm, Yang Hyun-jun, Adam Idah, Nicolas Kuhn and Luis Palma, may have found the intensity of representing Celtic to be something of a shock to the system since arriving.

However, he emphasised that the senior professionals are ensure that everyone in the squad remains firmly focused on what matters most – producing their A game on the park, winning matches and lifting trophies.

“It is not always easy, especially for the new guys coming in,” he said. “They maybe haven’t felt this kind of pressure before and scrutiny from living in a city that is this football mad. But the older guys are here for them through this kind of period. We just kind of block out the noise.”