Celtic set unwanted Kyogo Furuhashi record straight and notch up key win over Motherwell
The significance of Celtic’s fraught 1-0 victory over a lively Motherwell wasn’t simply that it reduced the Premiership deficit over Rangers to four points for Ange Postecoglou’s men.
The absence of Kyogo Furuhashi, sidelined for an intermittent time with a hamstring injury sustained in midweek, put a different spin on the home success earned by a classy finish on the stroke of half-time by Tom Rogic.
Not only did the loss of the Japanese striker leave Postecoglou operating without a senior central striker – the Australian seeking to rotate David Turnbull, Rogic and James Forrest, only to lose the Scotland winger to a hamstring within 16 minutes.
A different onus was placed on Celtic when shorn of Furuhashi, their top scorer with 14 goals this season. That is because for every one of the five league encounters Celtic had previously dropped points, the 26-year-old did not start through the middle.
The electric performer, as with hamstring-sidelined Jota, was certainly missed. But Celtic came through what might be considered a psychological barrier, even if doing so without any particular pizzazz in contest during which Graham Alexander’s men got at them for a concerted period in the opening 45 minutes.
A disputed foul in the added seconds of that period resulted in the key moment, the Motherwell manager earning a yellow card for going berserk that referee Euan Anderson elected to pull up Callum Slattery for diving in on Rogic on the right channel. What followed was indisputably supreme, though, Turnbull picking out the Australian just inside the box and so allowing the 29-year-old to demonstrate a God-given technique and touch, meeting the ball with perfection to side-foot it high into the right-hand corner of Liam Kelly’s net.
Motherwell, daring to operate with a mobile, pushing-on front three, had never allowed Celtic’s centre-back pairing of Carl Starfelt and Cameron Carter-Vickers to appear comfortable till that point. Certainly, the encounter could have been altogether different had Forrest not sent the ball just wide of the upright when sent in on the Motherwell keeper only four minutes in. But, when the visitors didn’t yield in that moment or after further Celtic pressure, they began to exert their own. Joe Hart had to be relieved to see a long-range drive from Slattery smack the crossbar only 13 minutes in. Then midway through the first period the former English international produced a stonking block from Sean Goss, the Celtic goal also remaining intact across a mighty scramble.
To their credit, Postecoglou’s men stabilised after the interval, and largely snuffed out opponents who had sparked dangerously, as they passed up several opportunities of their own.
Yet, overall, the pattern of the contest spoke once more to an odd difficulty that Celtic are experiencing in their home environs as this title race has developed. For all their possession and goal attempts forever far outstrips those they have been entertaining domestically, across their past six home Premiership assignments, Celtic have only netted seven times. At full-time, relief rippled all around the home stands that one such moment was enough for them with no Furuhashi to call upon.