REO HATATE is preparing to start only his second game in almost SIX months in the crucial derby encounter at Ibrox on Sunday.

The injury-jinxed Japanese midfielder was in Brendan Rodgers’ line-up at kick-off in the 3-0 win at Livingston at the weekend.

Amazingly, that was Hatate’s first inclusion in a starting eleven since the 2-2 Champions League group stage stalemate against Atletico Madrid at Parkhead on October 25. Unfortunately for the popular Hoops star, it was a fleeting appearance as he limped off after a mere seven minutes.

A ROUND OF APPLAUSE…Reo Hatate (extreme left) joins his Celtic team-mates in acknowledging the travelling support after the champions’ 3-0 win at Livingston. 

Thankfully, Hatate managed just over an hour in West Lothian as he displayed glimpses of the form that has made him such a favourite with the support and a pivotal figure for the team.

Now Rodgers is ready to pitch the 26-year-old playmaker in against Philippe Clement’s club in a confrontation that is certain to have a massive bearing on the destination of this season’s Premiership crown.

The champions go into the match leading the table by a point with their nearest challengers holding a game in hand.

Hatate has struggled with hamstring and calf problems since the beginning of the campaign after being forced off in the 3-1 victory over Aberdeen at Pittodrie in August.

He received another setback playing for his country in the Asian Cup at the turn of the year, but he is hoping to make up for lost time with seven league outings to go and, hopefully, two in the Scottish Cup if the holders can safely manoeuvre a path to the May 25 showpiece by overcoming the Dons in the semi-final.

ON THE BALL…comeback Bhoy Reo Hatate surges past Livingston’s Jason Holt.

Hatate said: “I have been repeatedly injured and not been able to contribute to the team.

“I want to win as many titles as possible and I want to show the Celtic fans a performance that once again makes them think: ‘Celtic need Reo Hatate’.

“During my rehabilitation in preparation for my return, I reviewed everything. This included preparation for competitions, physical strength, training content and diet.

“The most recent injury was my third this season and although it was in a different location, it was a huge shock to have sustained a similar injury over and over again.

“When I returned to Scotland after the Asian Cup, my heart sank for a while. I had also been injured in a match against Atletico Madrid in October and I was disappointed at that moment, but quickly recovered.

“I thought to myself: ‘I will definitely recover from my injury and participate in the Asian Cup’. By setting clear goals for my return, I was able to stay much more positive.

“However, this time, it was difficult for me to change my mind because I had been injured playing in a competition that had been my goal.”

THAT’S MY BHOY…Brendan Rodgers has a word with an emotional Reo Hatate after the midfielder’s substitute appearance in the 3-0 victory at St Mirren on January 2.

Hatate also thanked his mother and father for helping him to get through the “dark times”.

The all-action middle of the park performer, speaking to Japanese media outlet Sportiva, continued: “I handled my feelings and emotions as I felt them and I spent a lot of time feeling depressed.

“However, that doesn’t mean I cut corners in my rehab or that I neglected my daily life. I was doing my best in everything, but, to put it simply, I just wasn’t motivated and had no energy.

“However, there are people who care about me and who worry about me, including, of course, my family. They contacted me, which naturally led me to become more positive.”

Hatate added: “It’s one thing not to force yourself to control or maintain your feelings and sometimes just to surrender to the flow.

“There are very few people who have everything going well in their life. What seems like a long detour to you often turns out to be a shortcut.

“There are times when I have thought I didn’t have to experience something. But later I realise I was glad I had.

“The same goes for injuries. I realised that, whether you think it’s a waste of time or whether you can even use that time to your advantage, depends on your own way of thinking and how you perceive it.”

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