REO HATATE’S season has been a virtual write-off – but Brendan Rodgers is hoping the last chapter has yet to be written.

Celtic’s multi-talented Japanese international playmaker has made a meagre 13 appearances in a campaign ravaged by muscular injury.

Hatate, 26, hasn’t been seen this year since coming on for Paulo Bernardo in the 71st minute of the champions’ 3-0 win over St Mirren in Paisley on January 2.

Rodgers reserved a cuddle for his player at full-time. However, the midfielder was crocked in action for his country in the Asian Cup during the winter break and has been unavailable for the past TEN consecutive matches.

BRIEF ENCOUNTER…Brendan Rodgers and Reo Hatate after the Japanese’s ace cameo appearance in the 3-0 win over St Mirren in Paisley on January 2, so far his only outing in 2024.

It’s been a massive setback for Hatate and the Hoops who have struggled for momentum in his absence, a situation which has been further aggravated by the injury to skipper Callum McGregor whose presence has been sorely missed in the controversial loss against Hearts at Tynecastle and the Scottish Cup struggle against Livingston at Parkhead.

However, Rodgers is hopeful the clock is ticking on a comeback for the rarely-seen Hatate with the countdown to the crusade underway.

The champions, two points adrift at the moment, have nine Premiership outings before the conclusion of the league campaign while they have been drawn against Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup semi-final, as CQN reported last night.

The grand finale to the season is scheduled for Hampden on the iconic date of May 25 and Celtic have the opportunity of facing either Hearts or Philippe Clement’s Ibrox outfit as the curtain comes down on a topsy-turvy term.

Hatate would be welcomed back for the silverware run-in and Rodgers admitted: “Reo is progressing well. He’s out on the pitch doing his work, so we’re hoping that after the international break he’ll be with the squad.

“He’ll be training with the group and will be available afterwards. It’s more looking for the Livingston game.

HATATE’S BACK…the Celtic midfielder’s only appearance this year in Paisley in early January.

“Just having the availability of that level of player, the dynamism he has, clearly it’s something that we’ve missed. So, to have him back will be great.”

The Hoops are due to play on the dreaded plastic in West Lothian on March 31, just a week before the third Glasgow derby of the season at Ibrox where Scotland’s title kings, bidding for their twelfth crown in 13 years, won 1-0 in September.

They followed that up with a 2-1 succes in the east end of the city in December when Kyogo Furuhashi netted the winner for the second time in as many games.

Hatate missed both encounter as did influential Cameron Carter-Vickers who is again toiling with his hamstring troubles.

Rodgers is eager to have all three – his two key midfielders and his rock-solid centre-back – available in the forthcoming crucial couple of months.

TAKING A BREAK…Callum McGregor prepares to watch the action at Tynecastle from the stand.

The Irishman emphasises the qualities the trio bring to his team, and speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “I just think the football looks different. I’ve said it all season. You see it when you have more available.

“You saw the Dundee game and the influence of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Callum McGregor. These are huge players for us. They get us through the pitch and they squeeze the pitch.

“There’s never a drama when they are there. Everything is compact and tight. Hopefully, fingers crossed, we can get them all back.”

Rodgers added: “We’ve got a big game now against St Johnstone on Saturday.We look to win that and then we get a really exciting time after the break.

“That would be nice. That will make the football smile a bit more. We had to dig it out the other day, but the guys got us there.

“Hopefully we’ll have a few players back that will up the levels of performance.”

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