CELTIC fans got their first sighting of new Bhoys Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate and Yosuke Ideguchi in the 2-0 win over Hibs at Parkhead when the Premiership restarted on January 17.
Ange Postecoglou’s triple swoop on the J-League looked comfortable in a victory that moved the Hoops to within three points of the Ibrox league leaders.
Maeda scored the opening goal inside four minutes, Hatate won the Man of the Match award and Ideguchi came on for his midfield team-mate in the 74th minute and looked neat and composed.
TITLE-WINNING SMILES…Yosuke Ideguchi, Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate and Kyogo Furuhashi after last season’s championship was sealed in the 1-1 draw with Dundee United at Tannadice on May 11.
The Easter Road men return to the east end of Glasgow for the second time this year when they provide the opposition tomorrow with old Hoops goalkeeper favourite David Marshall captaining the Edinburgh club.
A lot has happened since their previous visit almost nine months ago. Tom Rogic, who set up Maeda for his breakthrough strike, is now at struggling Championship side West Brom who sacked boss Steve Bruce earlier this week and Mikey Johnston, now on loan with Portuguese outfit Vitoria Guimaeres, also figured as a second-half substitute for Liel Abada.
The spotlight will once again be on Maeda and Hatate tomorrow while Ideguchi is unlikely to figure.
The international team-mates were withdrawn in the 2-0 midweek Champions League loss to RB Leipzig and there can be no argument they are toiling.
FLAT OUT…Daizen Maeda is grounded after a miss in the 1-1 draw with Shakhtar Donetsk in Warsaw last month.
Maeda seems to be going backwards as he takes on the role of covering on the left in front of Greg Taylor as he did against the Bundesliga side for most of the 80 minutes he was on the pitch.
The cut and thrust plus goal threat from the former Yokohama F Marinos raider has been missing this time around with one goal – against Ross County in the 4-1 Premier Sports League Cup win in Dingwall in August – to show for his efforts.
Hatate, so imaginative and incisive when he made a first impression against Hibs, was way off the pace and his distribution, normally a strength, was wayward for most of his 65 minutes before being replaced by Aaron Mooy.
There can be absolutely no doubting the endeavour displayed by Maeda and Hatate. There are no question marks over their desire and commitment.
At the same time, though, there can be no argument both appear to be playing without that valuable commodity called confidence.
IN THE NET…Reo Hatate has an unusual vantage point against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Polish capital.
Nine months down the line, will Postecoglou be tempted to give the players a breather?
It’s hardly ideal timing with skipper Callum McGregor ruled out for a lengthy period, but there are still nine competitive games to play before the break for the World Cup Finals in Qatar and the manager knows he will require every single member of his squad to be firing on all cylinders during such a crucial period of the programme.
Ironically, it looks as though Meade and Hatate – plus striker Kyogo Furuhashi – could be involved in Japan’s squad for the showpiece competition which is due to kick off on November 21 and reach its conclusion on December 18.
There will be no rest for the players from now until the turn of the year.
They passed the initial Hibs test back in January. Another challenge may well await them tomorrow.