CELTIC 4 ABERDEEN 0
RAMPANT Reo Hatate followed up his two goals against St Mirren a week ago with another double salvo in the pulverising victory over Aberdeen at Parkhead this afternoon.
The Japanese playmaker booked his place in Ange Postecoglou’s starting line-up in the League Cup Final at Hampden a week tomorrow with an eye-catching display.
Hatate was simply unstoppable as he destroyed the Pittodrie opponents while Callum McGregor and Liel Abada added the other goals.
The champions maintained their nine-point advantage over Michael Beale’s Ibrox outfit who won 3-0 against 10-man Livingston in West Lothian.
AT THE DOUBLE…Reo Hatate proved unstoppable in the one-sided victory over Aberdeen.
The Hoops opened the scoring inside three minutes when they met the Dons in the season kick-off in July.
On that occasion, it was Stephen Welsh who headed in a Matt O’Riley right-wing corner-kick.
This time around, it was McGregor who did the business in two minutes with a crisply-struck left-foot drive from the edge of the box.
New Dons keeper Jay Gorter was left helpless by the pace and precision from the skipper.
Before they could catch their breath, the Dons were hit by a second from Hatate in the 14th minute as the visitors relentlessly drove forward in a ruthless bid to pile up the goals.
The Pittodrie rearguard were slow to react to the danger when the Japanese midfielder, who is on fire at the moment, picked up a pass from Greg Taylor.
Given time to size up the situation, Hatate didn’t hesitate as he swept the ball past Gorter to double the Hoops’ advantage.
At this stage it looked as though Postecoglou’s side were on course to at least emulate their record 9-0 victory over the Dons in 2010. It tapered off as the momentum was lost somewhat, but, having said that, they actually enhanced their goal difference.
The title kings were running amok as they picked off their shell-shocked opponents and crosses were flying across goal that would have been devoured by Kyogo Furuhashi who was watching the action from the substitutes’ bench with boss Postecoglou clearly having an eye to the Viaplay League Cup Final a week tomorrow.
I’M IN CHARGE…Callum McGregor netted the early opener to set Celtic on their way.
In the 27th minute, Hatate was denied by Gorter and three minutes later Alistair Johnston tried his luck with a header that was off target much to the relief of their overrun rivals.
Celtic were denied a penalty-kick by VAR in the 38th minute after referee Willie Collum pointed to the spot after Daizen Maeda had been flattened by ex-Celt Johnny Hayes.
It came in the aftermath of a superb save by Gorter from Filipe Jota who had been unmarked as he raced through on the exposed netminder. The Dutch No.1 denied the Portuguese ace and it appeared the hosts would still get the opportunity to make it 3-0 when the match official clearly gave the award.
However, it was nullified when VAR showed Jota had been in an offside position at the origins of the move.
The classy O’Riley was next to have a pop with a clever right-foot effort which was brilliantly repelled by the overworked shotstopper on loan from Ajax.
The Hoops players were afforded a standing ovation at the interval after a rollicking performance that saw them dominate proceedings with almost 80 per cent of possession.
A BIG HAND…Ange Postecoglou applauds his Celtic players.
Six minutes into the second period, normal service was resumed when Maeda threatened with a right-foot drive that went wide.
Postecoglou made his now usual triple substitution in the 63rd minute when Sead Haksabanovic, Tomoki Iwata and Liel Abada came on for Jota, O’Riley and Maeda.
Understandably, the tempo had dropped and Joe Hart was called into action when the Dons broke forward with Hayes involved, but the 75 times-capped England international used all his experience to block their raid and within moments the Hoops were back on the front foot.
With 19 minutes to go, 22-goal man Furuhashi came off the bench to replace Oh Hyeon-gyu who had put himself about during his first start.
The visitors were shredded five minutes later when Hatate started and finished a lightning move as the champions put their foot to the floor.
The inexhaustible midfield operator completed the break with exceptional ease and his ‘reward’ was to be withdrawn only a couple of minutes later with James Forrest taking his place.
In the 89th minute, all-action Haksabanovic won the ball back in a determined challenge and zipped over a low cross for Abada to thump No.4 past the stranded Gorter.
Now it’s all eyes on Hampden and Aaron Mooy, a late call-off through injury, watched the action from the sidelines and will hope to be 100 per cent to add his special talents to the showpiece occasion.
The holders go into the confrontation on a high after yet another exhilarating exhibition.
TEAM: Hart; Johnston, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Taylor; Hatate (sub: Forrest 79), McGregor, O’Riley (sub: Iwata 63); Jota (sub: Haksabanovic 63), Oh (sub: Kyogo 71), Maeda (sub: Abada 63).