There are still a few chapters to be written in Celtic’s story this season but the main narrative is certain to chronicle an unlikely tale of two strikers.
At McDiarmid Park on Boxing Day, the three points earned by Ange Postecoglou’s hugely-depleted side came at a significant cost.
The sight of Kyogo Furuhashi departing the scene early while clutching his troublesome hamstring was an alarming one for those Celtic fans forced to watch the closed-doors game from afar.
Giorgos Giakoumakis has helped guide Celtic to a six-point lead over rivals Rangers
A week previously, the Japanese had struck twice as Celtic came from behind to win the Premier Sports Cup against Hibs.
The star man in Postecoglou’s revamped squad was, by common consent, irreplaceable.
At that point in time, the prospect of being without him until April would have been unthinkable. The odds on a six-point deficit being turned into a six-point lead in his absence? Name your price.
Giorgos Giakoumakis had not been spotted in the six weeks prior to that day in Perth. The Greek had scored just once in his eight appearances, with a late missed penalty against Livingston adding to a list of woes including Covid and injuries.
The player’s hat-trick against Ross County last month was significant in Celtic’s title hunt
Frankly, there was precious little to suggest he was the man to fill any void.
‘It was a really frustrating time for me,’ Giakoumakis recalled. ‘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. So it was difficult to get fit and strong and help my team-mates.’
An uncertain start to life in Glasgow tested his resolve. To prevail in such trying moments, players need the unstinting faith of their manager. Postecoglou’s never waned.
Kyogo Furuhashi returned on Boxing Day before going down again after 15 minutes
‘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”,’ said the striker.
‘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.’
With Postecoglou often vague about the timescale for Furuhashi’s recuperation, it was clear the Greek would have to deliver if Celtic were to stay in the title race.
‘I didn’t feel any pressure because I had trust in my ability,’ said Giakoumakis. ‘I knew what I was capable of doing. I had to play my game and be myself and not worry about anything else.’
The tide began to turn with a first-time finish at Alloa in the Scottish Cup, with another goal immediately following against Hearts.
Giakoumakis wasn’t on the score sheet in Celtic’s next four games but his work rate and determination was still noted.
Furuhashi’s name was never far from the lips of fans and journalists but the Greek’s growing influence on the team mitigated against the impact of his fellow striker’s absence.
The Japanese’s likely return against St Johnstone tomorrow is welcome and timely for the team. But the importance of the 11 goals Giakoumakis has scored since he last took the field is lost on no-one.
Ange Postecoglou has overseen a remarkable revolution at Celtic
‘I think I’m in the best period of my career,’ he said. ‘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.’
At VVV-Venlo last season, the walls of relegation were closing in. Giakoumakis alone couldn’t prevent the minnows from eventually going down, but his 29-goal haul – the highest in the Netherlands – was staggering.
‘It’s a totally different situation to be in, but my job is the same,’ he said. ‘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.’
Last Sunday, Celtic put a couple of fingers on the Premiership trophy with victory over Rangers. The white-hot atmosphere inside Ibrox threatened to consume Celtic early on. Yet Giakoumakis, for one, felt right at home.
‘There are some huge games in Greece – derbies like that where the atmosphere is really crazy,’ he said.
‘You get it between Olympiakos, AEK Athens, PAOK Salonica and Panathinaikos. They are the four big teams.
Giorgos Giakoumakis has stepped up in the absence of his teammate Kyogo Furuhashi
‘But the Old Firm is something special – even bigger. The atmosphere is really crazy. You can see how much people love football here, so I think it’s even bigger here.
‘Those experiences in Greece did prepare me for it. The derbies I’ve played in before made me stronger and gave me focus. On Sunday I had to close my ears and focus on my team.’
Celtic fans now sense they have a real player on their hands. Different in style to Furuhashi but hugely effective.
A win against St Johnstone tomorrow would be another step towards the prize that Giakoumakis and his Parkhead team-mates all want.
Kyogo Furuhashi was expected to return at Ibrox on Sunday but it was delayed
There are other reminders of the successes chalked up to date. The spoils from his hat-trick exploits against Dundee and Ross County are never far from view.
‘The balls are in a special room in my house,’ he revealed. ‘My son is already playing with them. I need to hide them because I have some signatures on the balls and I think they will soon disappear.
‘I think he will be football crazy like me. Actually I don’t care about that as I want him to be healthy first of all and do whatever he thinks is going to make him happy.
‘But what I’ve seen so far is that, whenever he’s crying and I’m watching football, he stops crying.’