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Hatate strikes twice as Celtic blow Rangers away to go top

Glasgow (AFP) – Celtic stormed to the top of the Scottish Premiership with a first victory over Rangers for over two years as Reo Hatate scored twice and made the other in a 3-0 win at Celtic Park.

The Japanese midfielder was making his Old Firm debut after only joining the club in the January transfer window but made himself an instant hero with two strikes from outside the box.

Liel Abada then caught Borna Barisic napping to turn in Hatate’s cross to round off a dream first half for Ange Postecoglou’s men.

Victory takes the Hoops one point clear of their Glasgow rivals at the top of the table.

Celtic have overturned a six-point deficit at the winter break in just four games and will now be confident of taking back the title with a number of key players to come back from injury and international duty.

Rangers had been unbeaten in the previous seven meetings between the teams but were blown away in the first Old Firm derby in front of a full crowd at Celtic Park for over two years.

The Hoops were without two of their four-strong Japanese contingent due to injuries to Kyogo Furuhashi and Yosuke Ideguchi, while Daizen Maeda only made the bench after playing for his country yesterday in the Far East.

However, Hatate more than made up for their absence with a stunning display in just his fourth appearance since joining from Kawasake Frontale.

The 24-year-old already looks a bargain having cost just over £1 million ($1.3 million), and got Celtic off to the perfect start by firing through a crowd of players into the far corner after just five minutes.

Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor was at fault for two goals in a 3-3 draw at Ross County at the weekend that allowed Celtic to close within striking distance at the top of the table.

However, the 40-year-old justified Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s faith by producing a hat-trick of saves to prevent Giorgos Giakoumakis doubling the home side’s lead.

Rangers had looked to have weathered the Celtic storm as half-time approached and could even have levelled when Joe Hart spread himself well to save a one-on-one with Scott Arfield.

But they were hit by a quick-fire double just before the break which sparked jubilant scenes of celebration in the stands.

Firstly, Hatate produced another wonderful finish by curling beyond the grasp of McGregor from outside the box.

With Rangers still reeling, Hatate turned provider as his cross was pounced on by Abada for his 13th goal of the season with a classy first-touch finish.

Van Bronckhorst showed his fury by making three half-time substitutions and they made a difference in a far better second-half showing from the visitors.

One of the substitutes, Ryan Jack, came close to pulling a goal back with a thunderbolt from long range that came back off the crossbar.

But that was all the Scottish champions could muster as a response as they succumbed to just a second defeat in 63 league games.

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