Celtic ace Pukki's a Teem player after Turkey trip

TEMMU PUKKI is still relishing the taste of Turkey long after the rest of us have left the festive spirit behind.

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Teemu Pukki is hoping to earn an extended run in the Celtic first team
Teemu Pukki is hoping to earn an extended run in the Celtic first team

The striker hasn't exactly gorged himself on goals since his summer switch to Celtic, but a winter hiatus on the shores of the Med has breathed fresh life into his debut season at Parkhead.

Pukki was the headline capture of the summer for boss Neil Lennon, with the Finn brought to Glasgow to attempt to fill the scoring boots vacated by Gary Hooper following his move to Norwich.

Life in Paradise has been tough, though, with a modest goal return in the opening half of the campaign not exactly filling fans with optimism.

It took a change of scene for the 23-year-old to show glimpses of what he can do, with a strike in the Antalya Cup triumph over Trabzonspor a timely pick-me-up for Pukki.

Celtic have restarted where they left off following their mid-season break on the continent, the champions showing no intention of taking their foot off the gas as they race clear at the top of the Premiership standings.

Pukki notched only his fourth goal of the season in the 4-0 triumph over Hibs last month and the former HJK star is eager to shine in the second half of the campaign.

"It was really good for everyone in Turkey," he said.

"The guys who played more games got a break and those who needed matches got two really good games so it was an excellent week.

"I played in two games and it went well and gave me confidence so it was good. The goal against Hibernian gave me a lot of confidence. I had a couple of chances in the next game with Kilmarnock and should have scored, but the team is playing very well at the moment and it's really nice to play in the side."

Pukki is not the first, nor will he be the last, foreigner to take time to settle on our shores following a big-money move to Glasgow.

He arrived with the weight of expectation firmly on his shoulders and seen as Hooper's replacement at the head of the Hoops attack.

The Finnish international has not hit the heights, or the goal trail, in the way his Parkhead predecessor did but he is confident there is plenty more to come from him as he adjusts to idiosyncrasies of the Scottish game.

"The league is totally different," he said. "I thought it would be easier to get more chances in the game but other teams try to play defensively against us so there isn't as much space for the striker and it's a bit more physical than what I was used to.

"In the Bundesliga it's a bit faster but there is more space and the game goes from end to end, while the defence always try to attack you to get the ball as quickly as they can.

"But I feel good now and the whole of January has been good. I feel more comfortable.

"First, as the team we want to league and the cup and I hope I can score more goals.

"The first half of the season hasn't been so easy but I still believe I have things to give to the club and the team."

While Pukki has taken time to adjust to his new surroundings, Celtic have flown out of the traps in stunning fashion.

Victory over St Mirren on Sunday took them 21 points clear at the top of the Premiership standings as keeper Fraser Forster wrote his name in the record books and claimed his 11th successive clean sheet.

The giant shot-stopper has rightly taken the acclaim during the champions' remarkable run, but Pukki reckons it is a team effort as Lennon's side have vanquished everyone in their path.

He said: "It's something we can be proud of and we just want to keep it going and going.

"You need the whole team to do it and it's a great thing and Fraser has saved us a few times in the last few games. He is a fantastic keeper.

"Of course, you need to work hard as a striker but the main credit is for the defenders and Fraser.

"It's easier to play when you have them playing behind you. It helps as well because if we score it opens up for us as the other team pushes up so we get more chances. You still need to keep winning and work hard to stop the other team scoring. It's a big thing to play the 90 minutes."

With their status as Premiership champions set to be confirmed sooner rather than later, Lennon's side will turn their attentions to knockout matters this weekend when they face Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup. Celtic have already paid the price for having a rare off-night as Morton killed off their dreams of a domestic Treble early in the campaign.

And Pukki knows the Hoops can't afford to take their eye off the ball when the high-flying Dons travel to Parkhead.

"We did really poorly against Morton in the League Cup so we really want to win this one and it's a big competition for us," he told the Celtic View.

"I won the cup with Helsinki, but that year I didn't get to play in the final as I left earlier in the season.

"The team won, but I wasn't playing so it would be nice to be there this time."

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