CELTIC could complete the campaign with a flourish – if talisman Kyogo Furuhashi manages to overcome his persistent hamstring problem.

That’s the view of former Hoops striker Chris Sutton who reckons the pacy hitman, who has claimed 16 goals since his £4.6million arrival from the J-League in July, would put the finishing touches to a memorable season for his old club.

Kyogo became an instant fans’ favourite with a superb hat-trick in his first appearance at Parkhead as the Hoops overwhelmed Dundee 6-0 on August 8.

And he cemented the love affair with an unforgettable double salvo in the 2-1 Premier Sports League Cup Final victory over Hibs on December 19.

No-one could have guessed his magnificent lob over the stranded Matt Macey would be his last goal for the club so far.

BY THE RIGHT…Kyogo Furuhashi races in front of Hibs defender Ryan Porteous to make a perfect connection with the ball.

ON ITS WAY…the ball heads for its target as Kyogo watches and Porteous holds his breath.

MATCHWINNER…Kyogo turns away in triumph – and the Premier Sports League Cup is heading for Parkhead.

The 27-year-old international attack-leader limped off early in the next match – the 3-1 win over St Johnstone in Perth – and hasn’t kicked a ball in 2022, missing 14 consecutive outings and there will be no show again when the team take on Dundee United at Tannadice on Monday night.

Sutton said: “Kyogo Furuhashi was racing towards the Player of the Year Awards before injury struck him down last Boxing Day.

“The Japanese hasn’t been sighted since due to the seriousness of his hamstring injury.

“When you think of the job that Ange Postecoglou has done to get Celtic into position to win the title and possibly even a treble with a Scottish Cup-tie looming against Dundee United, you have to be impressed.

“But not half as impressed as you are when you consider he’s actually done it all since the turn of the year without his best player.

“Makes you wonder where he’d have had them if Furuhashi was fit. Celtic are three points ahead in the Premiership after 30 matches.

“Furuhashi has started just 12 of those. With two sub appearances. That’s just 14 outings. The guy hasn’t even featured in 50 per cent of the top-flight games.”

CHEERS…Giorgos Giakoumakis has claimed seven goals since his £2.5million arrival.

One-time England international forward Sutton, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “Let’s put this into perspective. Leading up to the Premier Sports Cup Final against Hibs at Hampden six days before Christmas, the Celtic supporters were in a state of complete and utter panic at the prospect of Furuhashi not being available.

“It’s no exaggeration to say that some thought his appearance in the Final might be the difference between their team winning and losing.

“In such a short space of time, Furuhashi had built that reputation around himself with his outstanding performances. He had created that aura.

“As it happened, he made it to Hampden and we all saw what happened next. Two absolutely sensational finishes, one with each foot, made sure Postecoglou won the silverware.

“Since that day, we’ve seen him for 15 minutes at Perth. And he hasn’t scored another goal.

“Celtic have been without their talisman, their top scorer.

“During that explosive first half to the campaign after he made his move from Vissel Kobe, it was obvious what a talent Furuhasi was.

“But what was also evident was his ability to make others perform. His movement and his touch and link play made space for others, brought opportunities for them.

“Furuhasi set the tone at the top of the pitch with his pressing and his presence.

CHEERS…Daizen Maeda collected his fifth goal of the campaign with the opener against Livingston last weekend.

“Interestingly, in that period prior to the winter break, Celtic had dropped points in six Premiership matches as they trailed Rangers by half-a-dozen points.

“In five of those matches, Furuhashi either did not start or he wasn’t available at all.

“That tells you how important he had become to the growing group and the manager who had the foresight to sign him when clubs across Europe clearly hadn’t even looked.

“To have that ripped out of a squad would have been hard enough for a seasoned group of players who were the finished article and fully gelled.

“To rip it away from a group still building and for them to keep fighting in the title race is something else entirely.

“Any side in the country would be badly affected by losing their best player. You take Craig Gordon out of the Hearts team, for example. Morelos away from Rangers, or Joe Aribo. It takes an awful lot away and Celtic had to cope.”

MASTERMIND…Ange Postecoglou plots the way ahead from the sidelines.

Sutton added: “The Bodo/Glimt ties were bad, but to have put together a domestic run of 11 wins and one draw out of 12 games since the winter break without Furuhasi is some going.

“To have turned that six-point deficit in the table to Rangers around to a three-point lead speaks volumes for the boss and also the guys who have stepped into the void.

“I have liked the look of Giorgos Giakoumakis pretty much from the start with the way he plays the game, the way he can come short, link it, mess around defenders, win fouls and then get himself into the box and hit the target.

“Giakoumakis makes good runs and he’s started to get goals. Daizen Maeda is a different type and also has his own strengths.

“Not everyone can settle as quickly as his countryman Furuhashi did and it can take time to adjust, so five goals from Maeda isn’t a bad return so far.

“But none of them are Furuhashi. None of them have his explosive spark and his magnificent finishing ability.

“Fans are desperate for Furuhashi to get back and start strutting his stuff again.

“What their team has managed to do in the title race without having him for over half of a flag bid speaks volumes for his colleagues and his boss.

“You can only imagine how stylishly they could finish it all off if they can get him back.”

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