BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Morton star Denny Johnstone admits he will be returning to Celtic Park with a point to prove after seeing his path to the first-team blocked by a revolving door of misfit strikers.
The 21-year-old, who is on loan at Cappielow from Birmingham City, is set to lead the line in Sunday’s Scottish Cup quarter-final as Jim Duffy’s men attempt to stun the Scottish champions.
It will be Johnstone’s first time back at the club since quitting the Hoops in 2014, having grown increasingly frustrated at being snubbed by the senior side despite prolific campaigns with the club’s under-20.
Admitting he was desperate to make the grade with Celtic, the 21-year-old is determined to show his old club what they are missing after being overlooked in favour of the likes of Amido Balde, Teemu Pukki, Miku and Lassad.
Johnstone said: “I really wanted to make it there so, without putting too much pressure on myself, I’ll have a point to prove.
“The last season I was there was my most prolific season in the youth set-up but it was so hard to make the breakthrough at Celtic.
“There was always an influx of strikers – too many to remember – and they were always looking to bring in that ‘gem’.
“It was frustrating because you are thinking to yourself that you should be ahead of one or two in the pecking order – one or two players that have since left the club. But that is the manager’s decision at the time.
“The guys who were in the team every week were at a much higher level than me, so I wasn’t expecting to be ahead of them, but it would have been great to have been given that chance in the first team.”
Despite the heartbreak of giving up on his Celtic dream, Johnstone insists he will return to arched as a more complete player after making the decision to pursue first team football.
He has turned out for Birmingham in the SkyBet Championship and has enjoyed loan stints in the rough and tumble of League One with the likes of Macclesfield, Cheltenham and Burton Albion.
He has emerged as a key player for Morton during his most recent loan spell, bagging 11 goals in 33 outings, including a recent strike against Hibs.
Johnstone continued: “It’s a big one for me. It’s the first time I have been back since I left Celtic and I think I’m going back a better player.
“I’ve had a taste of the game down south, have picked up some great experience, and now I am in the midst of my first full season of playing every week. I feel better for it. It’s all a learning curve.”
Ton boss Jim Duffy admits his side lacked “a spark” in their 0-0 draw with Livingston on Tuesday night after an energy-sapping run of eight matches in a month. However, Johnstone is adamant the trip to face Celtic will take care of itself.
He smiled: “There will be no problem with tiredness on Sunday. Adrenaline will be running high for everyone and that always gives you an extra yard. We’ve got a few days to recover and we are really looking forward to it.”