KYOGO FURUHASHI is standing by to make his first appearance of 2022 as Celtic prepare to take another step towards the title tomorrow.
The Japanese international striker, hampered by a persistent hamstring problem, hasn’t been seen since limping off early in the 3-1 win over St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park on Boxing Day.
Coincidentally – SEVENTEEN games later – the Hoops’ 16-goal talisman is ready to make a welcome return against the Perth outfit at Parkhead with the team now six points ahead at the Premiership pinnacle with only five games to play after the meeting with Callum Davidson’s men.
Kyogo, of course, became an instant fans’ favourite with a blistering hat-trick in his debut in the east end of Glasgow as Ange Postecoglou showed a glimpse of what was to come with a superb 6-0 triumph over devastated Dundee in August.
DOWN AND OUT…Kyogo Furuhashi suffers hamstring woe.
THE LONG GOODBYE…Kyogo Furuhashi is helped off by referee Bobby Madden against St Johnstone in Perth on Boxing Day – his last appearance in the hoops.
Now a full-house is poised to welcome back the £4.6million signing from J-League club Vissel Kobe in July, the most expensive recruit in Ange Postecoglou’s massive squad rebuild.
The Greek-Australian has revealed Kyogo had a chance of a return in the 2-1 victory at Ibrox on Sunday, but the gaffer decided to play safe because he thought he had the players available to get the job done against Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s side.
However, the pacy frontman is awaiting the green light to be unleashed on the Saints – and give Postecoglou a selection headache.
Does Kyogo play from the start? Will he be held in reserve to come at an appropriate time during the contest? Will he play ahead of Giorgos Giakoumakis, the Premiership Player of the Month for March? Or will the Japanese and Greek attack-leaders dovetail up front?
These are all questions which will be welcomed by Postecoglou who has expertly guided the team in the direction of a phenomenal domestic clean sweep with a Scottish Cup semi-final a week on Sunday to also plan for at Hampden, scene of the Premier Sports League Cup success in December.
ACTION MAN…Kyogo Furuhashi is on the ball.
In the absence of Kyogo, the powerful £2.5million signing from Dutch minnows VVV-Venlo in August has fired in 11 goals, including hat-tricks against Dundee and Ross County.
Giakouamkis had made an underwhelming start to his Hoops career with just one goal – ironically against tomorrow’s visitors back in October – and he had also fluffed what would have been a matchwinning penalty-kick against Livingston.
The international hitman recalled: “It was a really frustrating time for me. It was really difficult because I was trying to settle here and adjust to a new environment.
“I was looking forward to coming here and playing my first games, but it was harder than I thought.
“I had an injury and also Covid, so I was sick a couple of times. It was difficult to get fit and strong and help my team-mates.”
GOAL-DEN GREEK…Giorgos Giakoumakis turns away after scoring the winner against Hearts at Tynecastle in January.
Postecoglou, though, never lost faith in the player and Giakoumakis, speaking to the Daily Mail, continued: “Since the first moment I came here and had this hard time, he was always trying to help me and convince me that: ‘I believe in you’.
“He told me just to try to get fit and that I was a really important player for him and the team. That was really important for me.
“It made me feel good and relaxed. I could focus on my recovery. I worked even harder. That’s why I’m really strong right now.
“I didn’t feel any pressure because I had trust in my ability. I knew what I was capable of doing. I had to play my game and be myself and not worry about anything else.”
Preparing for the visit of the Perth club, Giakoumakis admitted: “I think I’m in the best period of my career.
“I hope to keep scoring a lot of goals for Celtic. I will give my best for them and hope to have some successful seasons by winning some trophies.
“I’m very optimistic.”
THE THINKER…Ange Postecoglou has a pleasant poser to solve.
In the Eredivisie last season, Giakoumakis claimed 29 goals for a club that was relegated and he added: “It’s a totally different situation to be in, but my job is the same.
“I have to score, I have to give everything in the field to help my team to win. But it’s really nice to fight for winning trophies rather than trying not to get relegated.
“So, for me, this is something really beautiful and I hope we can win many trophies.”
Kyogo or Giakoumakis? Or both? Over to you, Ange!