REO HATATE has revealed a half-time chat with Ange Postecoglou has set him up for a starring role in Celtic’s crescendo to a memorable campaign.

The Japanese midfielder limped off after only 13 minutes of the 3-1 win over Hibs at Parkhead on March 18 just before the international break.

And the fans were concerned when there was a no-show from one of their favourites in a succession of games with the Premiership title and the Scottish Cup up for grabs.

Hatate missed four successive league encounters as the champions overcame Ross County (2-0), Michael Beale’s Ibrox side (3-2) and Kilmarnock (4-1) and drew with Motherwell (1-1).

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS…Reo Hatate and John Lundstram during Celtic’s 1-0 Scottish Cup semi-final victory at Hampden.

He returned for the Scottish Cup semi-final against James Tavernier and Co on April 30 – FORTY-THREE days since his last sighting in the first team against Lee Johnson’s Easter Road outfit.

It looked like a bit of a gamble by Postecoglou as he employed the drive and energy of the 25-year-old international in the engine room of his team alongside skipper Callum McGregor as the Greek-Australian attempted to make sure the Hoops would make it to the soccer showpiece at Hampden, an occasion that escaped him in his debut crusade.

Hatate played 66 minutes before being replaced by Tomoki Iwata as a neat headed goal from Filipe Jota made certain the Parkhead men would be playing Inverness Caley Thistle, who had beaten Falkirk 3-0 in their last-four confrontation 24 hours earlier, in the battle for silverware at the national stadium on Saturday evening.

THE FINAL SAY…Callum McGregor and Reo Hatate on their way to the Hampden showpiece.

The £1million recruit from J-League outfit Frontale in January 2022, speaking to Japanese outlet Sportiva, set the scene on the day of his welcome comeback to action.

Hatate said: “It’s a one-shot Cup semi-final, and the opponent is the rival Rangers.

“I feel that the work I have shown so far on the pitch is a proof of trust in the fact that [the manager]has nominated me as a starting pitcher after returning from injury.

“There was a difficulty that the play was not as usual, partly because it was a big game for the first game after returning. However, for the sake of the team, I did the best I could at that time.

“If you don’t get the feel of the game and can’t contribute to the team on the offensive side, work hard and show your strength in defence. Press the opponent to induce or drive them.

“Pick up the second ball and connect it to the attack. Or keep the ball and calm the game down.”

FLAG DAY…Reo Hatate takes on Aberdeen defender Matty Pollock on Celtic’s way to a 5-0 win in the last Premiership outing of the season.

Hatate added: “When I was asked if I could show my characteristics and strengths in my first match after coming back, it was hard to say that I could, but I thought and tried to play the minimum role that was required of me.

“Above all, a good offense starts with a good defence. I didn’t score, but a 1-0 win gave Celtic a ticket to the Final. Considering that it gave me the right to challenge for the domestic triple crown.

“I am glad that I was able to do the bare minimum. And then, in the match against Hearts, which decided the league championship, I switched back to my own play based on Mr. Ange’s words.”

Now Postecoglou, Hatate and all at Celtic are poised for history as they aim for a win over the Highlanders to claim the club’s eighth domestic clean sweep of honours.

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