CELTIC 2 LIVINGSTON 0
KYOGO FURUHASHI ended his agonising seven-game goal drought just when Celtic needed him most against stubborn Livingston at rainswept Parkhead this afternoon.
The champions had been relentless in the pursuit of the breakthrough strike throughout a one-sided opening period, but had nothing to show for their efforts.
Kyogo had been denied several times in the first-half, but he fashioned the perfect response just moments after the interval when he displayed the lightning reflexes we all know he possesses.
Livi took their eye off him for a split second and that was all the prolific hitman needed to sneak in and turn the ball wide of exposed keeper Jack Hamilton.
ROARING SUCCESS…Kyogo Furuhashi celebrates another Celtic goal.
It was Kyogo’s eighth goal of the campaign and he looked a mightily relieved forward as he celebrated.
Liam Scales, with his first strike of the term, made it 2-0 with a flashing header six minutes later to give Brendan Rodgers’ side some breathing space.
There was a strange attempt to score by Matt O’Riley in the fourth minute when the ball dropped at his feet four yards out as it was thrown in from the left. The midfielder, in good goalscoring form this season, stretched to get a touch and seemed to knock it away from the danger zone.
Four minutes later, Greg Taylor set up Kyogo, but the striker’s first-time attempt was blocked by desperate defender James Penrice.
The hosts had upped the pace considerably from their slow-motion performances in the back-to-back defeats from Kilmarnock and Hearts as the pattern developed as anticipated with the champions piling on the pressure right from the off.
Luis Palma whipped in a low drive that was beaten away by an unconvincing Hamilton. Paul Bernardo’s follow-up effort was charged down.
Rock-bottom Livi had 11 men in or around the box as they attempted to frustrate the Hoops.
Taylor picked out Kyogo who was crowded out and Daizen Maeda was thwarted by a last-gasp touch from Tom Parkes as another low ball was fired in from the left.
TAKING A BREATHER…Luis Palma put in a superb shift before coming off in the 71st minute.
Palma was next up to have a go as Alistair Johnston sent an inviting ball into the box. It broke kindly for the Honduran who dragged it to his right foot, but he flashed his shot high and wayward.
Eight minutes from the interval, Joe Hart was called into action when he got down swiftly to cut out a low left-wing cross from Penrice.
It was a special occasion for Cameron Carter-Vickers who was making his 100th appearance for the Hoops and the rock-solid centre-back tried to mark the occasion with a full-blooded drive from outside the box that was headed clear by Parkes who required treatment before being led off and replaced by Michael Nottingham.
The opening half came to a halt with Maeda having a shot blocked – the story of a frustrating opening period.
Exactly 28 seconds after the turnaround, Kyogo at last got the breakthrough goal – his first strike in eight games.
Taylor got the quickfire move underway with a pass to Palma on the left. The tricky touchline operator cut in, dummied to shoot before whipping in a low ball and the Japanese frontman, played onside by two defenders, was first to react.
He raced into space just in front of Hamilton to touch the ball into the net. Kyogo looked the most relieved man in the ground as grabbed the ball and gave it a huge smacker!
In the 51st minute, Scales doubled the advantage when he snapped in a header from an accurate left-wing corner-kick delivery from the dangerous Palma.
No-one could argue the home side were good value for their double strike.
Maeda, making his first start since last month, was taken off in the 63rd minute with the evergreen James Forrest coming on in his place.
In the 71st minute, Kyogo and Palma, who had put in excellent shifts, were replaced by Oh Hyeon-gyu and Yang Hyun-jun.
Two minutes later, O’Riley whipped in a left-wing corner-kick that was met by the head of Carter-Vickers from six yards, but Hamilton produced a reflex save to push the effort wide of the target.
In the 80th minute, David Turnbull joined the action as he replaced Bernardo.
Oh came so close with a close-range header which was superbly pushed round the post by Hamilton for a right-wing corner-kick.
The rain and wind continued to make it difficult for both sets of players, but, at least, on this occasion the Hoops were not blown off course.
The win also increased the champions’ lead at the top to five points as they prepare for the Boxing Day trip to Dundee.
TEAM: Hart; A Johnston, Carter-Vickers, Scales, Taylor; Bernardo (sub: Turnbull 80), McGregor, O’Riley; Maeda (sub: Forrest 63), Kyogo (sub: Oh 71), Palma (sub: Yang 71).