BRENDAN RODGERS applauded Reo Hatate’s impact in the crucial 3-0 victory over stubborn St Mirren at Parkhead yesterday.

The champions were locked in a scoreless struggle against the dour Paisley outfit who were content to erect a barrier in front of keeper Zach Hemming and rely on picking up something on the counter-attack.

The troublesome, blustery conditions didn’t help as the hosts struggled to impose their usual domination on their opponents.

The breakthrough goal was vital and Hatate, starting his third successive game in a campaign jinxed by injury problems, provided the little piece of stardust to unlock the back door and rifle an outstanding opener.

Six minutes after the turnaround, the Japanese playmaker took a touch on an Alistair Johnston pass on the edge of the box and then sent a cute outside-of-the-boot effort flying high into the net past the mesmerised Hemming, left totally helpless on this occasion.

NUMBER ONE…Reo Hatate supplies a sublime touch for the opening goal.

Kyogo Furuhashi headed in a second after a superb right-wing delivery from the Canadian international and, near the end, substitute Adam Idah completed the scoring to wrap up the points in an ultimately satisfying afternoon in the east end of Glasgow.

Reflecting on the barrier-breaking strike, a beaming Rodgers said: “It was a great touch and finish from Reo.

“It’s great to see him back and he got a little bit more game-time, so that was pleasing.

“The second goal, when you first look at the cross, it was brilliant by Ali and the movement of Kyogo is what his game’s all about – how he creates the space for himself. His first movement takes the defender one way – and then he’s there to finish.

“And once we got to 2-0, the flow of the game and the tempo was good, and we started to push on much better.

“Big Adam is a real weapon for us, whether he starts for us or comes off the bench – just his physicality. He got another goal so, again, he’s contributing. And I thought all the subs came on and did that.”

NUMBER TWO…Kyogo Furuhashi heads in a superb cross from Alistair Johnston (extreme right).

With fives game to go after the split, the Hoops extended their lead to four points with their nearest challengers from Ibrox having two matches in hand, one of them against Ross County in Dingwall which is scheduled for noon today.

Rodgers, speaking to Celtic TV, continued: “It was a very good win. These games are always about the first goal, we got it at the beginning of the second-half and then everything started to flow from there.

“To be fair, it was more than the wind. We didn’t play quick enough and move the ball and were accurate enough with our passing.

“The passing was too slow and we didn’t quite connect the game, so we just talked at half-time around making closer connections so that we could play quicker.”

The Hoops gaffer added: “It was difficult for both sets of players, but I thought St Mirren defended well.

“We didn’t cause them enough problems in the first-half just by the speed of everything and we lost the ball too quickly in the final third.

NUMBER THREE…Adam Idah nods over the stranded Zach Hemming to seal the victory.

“But once we corrected that in the second-half, I thought the players were excellent.

“There was a really good tempo in the game, scored some very good goals and nearly had some others.”

The champions can take a rest from collecting league points in their bid for a twelfth title in 13 years on Saturday when they switch their focus to the Scottish Cup.

The holders are now preparing for an intriguing semi-final encounter against Aberdeen at Hampden while Philippe Clement’s Ibrox side face Hearts in their last-four tie 24 hours later.

A dramatic showpiece showdown could be on its way for the iconic date of May 25 when the curtain comes down on Rodgers’ second coming at Parkhead.


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