Celtic continued the relentless defence of their Scottish Premiership crown with victory over Ross County at Parkhead on Saturday, with the Old Firm outfit surging to nine points clear at the summit ahead of bitter rivals, Rangers.
While it is all doom and gloom on the other side of Glasgow, for Ange Postecoglou and co it is all going swimmingly at present, having now won 14 of their opening 15 league games heading into the World Cup break.
This latest triumph was, however, far from smooth sailing, although not necessarily as a result of the home side’s performance, having again been on the receiving end of a questionable VAR decision as Matt O’Riley was harshly penalised for handball just after the interval.
The visitors subsequently capitalised on that debatable call to take the lead from the penalty spot, only for the determined hosts to soon hit back through David Turnbull, before Sead Haksabanovic netted his third goal in his last four league games in superb fashion.
Following that impressive comeback, the Hoops boss was notably full of praise for the midfield pairing of the aforementioned O’Riley and Reo Hatate, stating that the pair had helped to fill the “void” left behind by the injury absence of captain Callum McGregor, while also teasing that “we’ll see the best of them after the break.”
The display of Hatate, in particular, caught the eye as the diminutive midfielder put his recent Japan snub behind him to sparkle in the centre of the park, having had arguably one of his “best games in a Celtic jersey” against Malky Mackay’s side, in the words of journalist John McGinley.
That outing had come after the January arrival was ‘not at his best‘ during the midweek win over Motherwell, according to Glasgow Live’s Ben Banks, with ex-Bhoys striker Chris Sutton also suggesting that the one-cap gem ‘looked off it‘ at Fir Park, with a relentless run of games having potentially begun to catch up with him.
The former J-League star showed no signs of fatigue yesterday, however, having made a real impact from his playmaking berth, notably recording a staggering haul of five key passes from his 90-minute outing.
While the 24-year-old did lose possession 15 times, that was arguably a sign of the midfield maestro simply attempting to make things happen, having played his part in both of his side’s goals on the day, first doing brilliantly to tee up Turnbull with a driving run inside the area for the equaliser, before a neat one-two with Haksabanovic saw the latter man net the winner.
Such involvement unsurprisingly saw Hatate recording a stunning match rating of 7.9, as per SofaScore – the joint-highest of any of his teammates – having once again showcased his undoubted importance to the champions.