CELTIC 4 ST JOHNSTONE 1
REO HATATE answered an SOS from Ange Postecoglou to play at right-back with Celtic short of cover for the injured Anthony Ralston.
The Japanese ace had to move out of his usual midfield berth to take over at No.2, but it didn’t stop him firing in an impressive double and coming so close to a sensational hat-trick against St Johnstone at Parkhead this afternoon.
Hatate and his countryman Kyogo Furuhashi were the Hoops’ shooting stars with the striker also claiming two against the Perth outfit who were swept aside in a one-way procession.
The game was easing to the champions restoring their nine-point advantage when substitute David Turnbull was outrageously red-carded for a challenge on Saints keeper Remy Matthews deep in stoppage time.
It was an obvious effort from the midfielder to get to a high ball as he clashed with the Perth No.1. It was clearly an accidental collision with both players showing courage in going for the ball. His foot was high, but it was not a mailicious attempt to injure an opponent.
Referee Kevin Clancy booked the Celt, but after an interruption from the technical team the match official then produced a ludicrous red card.
Turnbull could only offer a wry smile as he came off the field. Ange Postecoglou looked suitably dumbstruck on the touchline.
HAIL HATATE…it’s Reo grand after the Japanese star netted a double against St Johnstone.
There was controversy in the early stages when Kyogo was convinced he had given the Hoops the lead in the fifth minute with a close-range header after an Aaron Mooy left-wing corner-kick.
The ball flashed across goal to find the Japanese striker lurking at the far post and he was quick to swoop with a glancing effort. It looked to be over the line, but Matthews managed to get a hand to the ball to claw the attempt to safety.
Two minutes later, Matt O’Riley scorned an excellent opportunity when he missed the target after being set up with a superb left-wing pass from Callum McGregor.
The elegant Englishman was unmarked when the ball arrived at his feet eight yards out, but he snatched at his attempt and put it a couple of feet wide of the post.
Hatate showed his team-mate how it was done when he hit the barrier-breaking goal in the 14th minute.
Daizen Maeda raced forward at speed on the left and the ball was worked across the pitch to Mooy who teed up the emergency defender.
Hatate didn’t hestitate as he smacked the ball with his right foot from 16 yards and it took a flick of Drey Wright on its way past the helpless Matthews.
Three minutes later, Kyogo doubled the advantage with a cheeky finish with a flicked effort after a neat ball over from O’Riley on the left.
DOUBLE UP…Reo Hatate slips the ball past the helpless Remy Matthews for Celtic’s fourth goal in the 4-1 romp against St Johnstone.
In the 38th minute, there was panic in the Perth side’s penalty area after Greg Taylor had whipped over an inviting low cross. James Forrest and Kyogo both had stabs at the ball before Matthews denied the Japanese hitman.
However, Kyogo was not to be denied and thumped in a third after another sweet move from the Hoops five minutes from the break.
Mooy picked out the run of Forrest on the right and the evergreen Celt raced forward, looked up for a moment and then slid a pass in front of his prolific team-mate who applied another killer finish smack in front of goal for his 14th strike of the season.
In 52 minutes, Hatate joined the attack again to grab his second goal of the afternoon. Skipper McGregor teed it up for the raiding Japanese ace and the makeshift defender finished with a fair amount of aplomb.
The game was the held up for three minutes while VAR checked the goal before they told us what we already knew – the goal was good.
In the 63rd minute, boss Postecoglou made a three-player change when he replaced Forrest, O’Riley and Maeda with Liel Abada, Sead Haksabanovic and Filipe Jota.
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT, VAR? Ange Postecoglou looks puzzled on the touchline.
In the 66th minute, the Perth men netted a consolation goal which was tough on Joe Hart. Stevie May was adjudged to be just onside as he raced through on a neat pass to fire a shot at goal.
The keeper blocked the attempt, but unfortunately the ball rebounded straight to Wright. Again Hart managed to thwart his first shot, but it broke again to the Saints player who couldn’t miss from two yards.
Before the restart, Giorgos Giakoumakis replaced Kyogo for some much-needed game-time.
Hatate came within a lick of paint of a remarkable hat-trick in the 72nd minute when substitute Abada kocked a pass into his tracks.
The all-action man zipped in a first-time drive from the edge of the box which flashed low past Matthews to his left.
Alas, the ball just nudged the outside of the upright and diverted to safety.
Had it gone in it would have prompted the question: when was the last time a right-back scored a hat-trick for Celtic?
Eleven minutes from time, Turnbull came on for Mooy who had put in a good shift.
Turnbull and Abada combined to set up a shooting chance for Giakoumakis, but the Greek’s drive was bundled away by Matthews.
Then came the controversial red card for Turnbull as VAR raised its ugly head yet again.
So, the curtain came down on an entertaining and eventful 2022 at Parkhead with a convincing victory following a dominating performance.
All eyes are now on Easter Road on Wednesday where a victory against Hibs would be the perfect conclusion to the year.
TEAM: Hart; Hatate, Carter-Vickers, Starfelt, Taylor; Mooy (sub: Turnbull 79), McGregor, O’Riley (sub: Haksabanovic 63); Forrest (sub: Abada 63), Kyogo (sub: Giakoumakis 67), Maeda (sub: Jota 63).