CLASSY Croatian defender Josip Juranovic has welcomed back Kyogo Furuhashi – and believes he will have a crucial role to play in the league and Cup run-in.

The Japanese international striker came on in the 74th minute of Celtic’s 7-0 weekend rout of St Johnstone at Parkhead for his first appearance of 2022 after being sidelined with a persistent hamstring problem.

Kyogo had thumped in 16 goals – including a precious double against Hibs in the Premier Sports League Cup triumph at Hampden on December 19 – before limping off in the 3-1 victory over the Perth side at McDiarmid Park a week later.

As the club’s talisman hirpled off the field after just seven minutes, no-one had a clue he would miss the next 17 games at home and abroad before his welcome return against Callum Davidson’s men.

DOWN AND OUT…the sad sight of Kyogo Furuhashi feeling the effects of his hamstring strain.

UP AND RUNNING…the all-action Kyogo Furuhashi who has been welcomed back to the first team.

One of his first pieces of action was to hit a breathtaking long pass towards Daizen Maeda who knocked it down for Liel Abada to unhesitatingly thump wide of the stranded Zander Clark.

It was the seventh time the Perth keeper had been forced to retrieve the ball from the back of his net following a rampant display from the Premiership pacesetters who are six points ahead at the summit with five matches to play.

Efforts from Reo Hatate, Giorgos Giakoumakis, Maeda, Juranovic – with a superb penalty-kick – and two from Matt O’Riley had already beaten the gallant netminder.

The Croatia international full-back was beaming at the end of an entertaining afternoon in a bouncing east end of Glasgow and said: “Kyogo is back. He is a great person and you can see everyone loves him here.

PARADISE…Kyogo Furuhashi is about to launch the ball downfield that led to Liel Abada’s goal in the 7-0 romp.

“He is an amazing player and he could be so important for us for the rest of the season.

“I don’t want to put pressure on him, but we know he, like every player, will give everything for the club.

“If we do that then we will be successful.

“There is competition for places, but we don’t see it like we are fighting each other. We have friendships and we will give everything for each other on the pitch.

“It doesn’t matter if I am on the bench and Anthony Ralston is playing, we know we have that quality player playing instead.

“That’s what happens at a big club like Celtic. We know we need to continue this now.

“We have a lot of players in the squad and you only have to look at the bench against St Johnstone.

SPOT ON…Josip Juranovic is poised as he prepares to send a penalty-kick unerringly into the corner for the fourth goal.

UP IN ARMS…Josip Juranovic celebrates Matt O’Riley’s first strike – and Celtic’s fifith – against St Johnstone.

“We have boys who can come on and make the difference for us. There is such strength and depth in the team.

“Even in training every day, the boys have to be at their best as we are fighting to get a place in the team.

“Because of that, it helps the team reach high standards.”

Juranovic, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “We are going game by game and we are only thinking about the three points. The most important thing is the next game.

“We were sixth in the table at one point this season, but now we are first and we want to stay there.

“Was it an emphatic performance against St Johnstone? Yes.

“Now we have to continue like that for the rest of the season.”

SMILES BETTER…Josip Juranovic prepares for training at Lennoxtown.

Juranovic’s penalty was his fifth conversion from the spot, but he allowed Giakoumakis to claim a hat-trick in the recent 4-0 win over Ross County.

He added: “I have scored five penalties out of five, so I have to be happy with that.

“I practice in training all the time and it is paying off right now. It is going well and I want to keep it that way.

“I don’t really have a technique or mindset, it is all about practice being perfect for me.

“I know some of the other players might want to take them, but they know for now I am first choice.

“If someone, like Giorgos or Kyogo had two goals and was going for a hat-trick, I might step aside and let them take the penalty.

“But that’s up to me if I want to let them do it or I take it myself – it depends on the circumstances.”

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