LEIGH GRIFFITHS’ goalscoring qualities were overlooked by caretaker boss John Kennedy in the 4-1 collapse at Ibrox yesterday.
Author Alex Gordon, whose fifteenth Celtic book, ’50 Flags Plus One’, is on sale now, looks at the non-appearance of the hitman in another CQN EXCLUSIVE.
Alex said: “It’s a mystifying situation when you consider Celtic were struggling to get back into the game from the 30th minute following the second goal for Steven Gerrard’s side.
“Clearly, the 26th-minute red card for Callum McGregor shaped the thinking of John Kennedy who pulled Mohamed Elyounoussi back into a deeper midfield role to fill the void left by the absence of the vice captain.
“That left Odsonne Edouard, who hauled it back briefly to 1-1 with a close-range header, on his own, but, as the game wore on, it was evident the languid Frenchman required a partner in attack.
CRASH…Leigh Griffiths heads Celtic’s stoppage-time equaliser beyond Aberdeen keeper Gary Woods at Pittodrie.
“Untested Jack Simpson, the youngster making his debut in this fixture, had been booked in the 17th minute for a push on Edouard and should have been walking on egg shells for the remaining 73 minutes. A mistimed tackle or another wayward challenge could have earned a red. Astonishingly, the visitors did not put the rookie defender under pressure for practically the remainder of the contest.
“Ten minutes after the interval, with the score still standing at 2-1, David Turnbull passed up a glorious chance to level when James Forrest delivered a superb right-wing ball into the box. The industrious midfielder, one of the team’s best performers on the day, completely fluffed his header from six yards and his effort trundled wide with Allan McGregor yet again breathing a massive sigh of relief.
“Hindsight is 20/20 vision, but it is an inescapable fact that Celtic had a guy on the substitutes’ bench who would almost certainly have put that one away.
“In the previous game at Pittodrie, Griffiths had come on for Edouard to equalise with a looping header at the back post against Aberdeen. That had been a far more difficult opportunity to convert than the one Turnbull unfortunately squandered.
“As the clock ticked down, the game moved further away from Celtic in the 57th minute when Kemar Roofe was allowed to head a Borna Barisic left-wing cross beyond Scott Bain following another sequence of errors from the visitors.
BANG…Leigh Griffiths stuns Hearts with the Hoops’ third goal on their way to the quadruple treble.
“Three minutes later, Kennedy was stirred into introducing subs – but Griffiths remained on his backside.
“Ismaila Soro and Ryan Christie came on for Scott Brown and Forrest before another change was made 15 minutes from time.
“Bewilderingly, Edouard came off with Mikey Johnston, who has rarely figured in an injury-dominated season, coming on as his replacement.
“If 30-year-old Griffiths was not fit to play any part of the contest, he should not have been named among the stand-by squad.
“Johnston hardly got a touch of the ball and the final curtain came down on another poor performance when veteran Jermain Defoe – eight years Griffiths’ senior – was allowed to waltz around the penalty box before rolling the ball beyond Bain.
“Griffiths, of course, has brought a lot of criticism upon himself in a crucial campaign. Turning up for pre-season overweight after his four-month lockdown period, was hardly ideal and an irate Neil Lennon reacted accordingly by binning him from the pool of players who travelled to France for the four-game build-up.
“He has found it difficult to pick up the pace following the false start and his goal against the Dons was only his eighth of the season. That is a meagre return for a striker with his undoubted talent.
WALLOP…Leigh Griffiths celebrates at Hampden following his crucial extra-time strike against Hearts.
“One of those strikes came in the 3-3 draw with Hearts in the delayed Scottish Cup Final on December 20. Lennon turned to the hitman in extra-time with the scoreline tied at 2-2. He duly obliged by smashing in the third goal. The defence leaked a third and when it came down to nerve-shredding penalty-kicks, it was Griffiths who stepped up to tuck the first effort beyond former team-mate Craig Gordon.
“In a moment of sheer elation of the phenomenal quadruple treble being delivered five days before Christmas, the manager hailed the forward as ‘a genius’.
“Griffiths is still hoping the club activate the 12-month option on his contract that is due to expire at the end of this month.
“He is fast running out of games to impress the incoming manager. Possibly, he will be given the opportunity to show those once-devastating predatory qualities against St Johnstone a week on Wednesday and Hibs three days later.
“If not, it looks as though he will not even get the chance to drink at football’s last-chance saloon.”