NEIL LENNON believes Leigh Griffiths can “push himself a little more” in his efforts to play a pivotal role in the vital months ahead for the champions in their quest for the historic tenth successive title.
The 30-year-old striker has flitted in and out of the team, scoring some eye-catching goals, but has failed to convince the Celtic manager he is fit enough to last a full game.
Griffiths made his entrance in Sunday’s Scottish Cup Final against Hearts nine minutes into extra-time when he replaced Odsonne Edouard and and six minutes later he had crashed in the Hoops’ third goal with lightning reactions after Craig Gordon had pushed away a determined header from Scott Brown.
That should have been the matchwinner, but some woeful defending allowed the Edinburgh club to make it 3-3 and force the penalty-kick shoot-out where the Scotland international elected to take the Hoops’ first attempt and slotted it away with his usual devastating accuracy.
The record books will show the Parkhead side made glorious history with a 4-3 triumph in the sudden-death finale to clinch the unprecedented quadruple treble.
But Griffiths is still not an automatic selection for this evening’s Premiership encounter against Ross County in Glasgow where three points are an absolute must for the nine-in-a-row title kings.
Lennon, of course, has his reasons for keeping the prolific hitman on stand-by. Asked if he thinks his player is lacking basic fitness or simply match fitness, the Irishman, speaking to the media, answered: “Both. General conditioning and match fitness.
“I don’t know if he’s fit enough to do a full 90 minutes yet. That’s where I stand on it. I think he’s fit enough to play a chunk of games.
“He’s training every day, but I think he can maybe push himself a little more. Griff has tunnel vision, he can be quite belligerent and he has great belief in himself. This isn’t him and I falling out over anything. I think he can get fitter.
“Maybe he thinks he can get fitter by playing more of the games, but I think in between games – or if he’s not playing as much – he can do a little bit more. He may disagree with that, but it’s just a difference of opinion, probably.”
Lennon added: “I was delighted with his contribution at Hampden. I’m not totally convinced that he’s fit, but he’ll be fit enough to play and add something to the games as we go along.
“But I’m very pleased with him: he did what he always does – he sniffed out a good chance and his reaction to the second ball was brilliant. I’m delighted for him.
“He’s a huge asset. I want him fit and hungry, which he definitely is. He’s a great personality to have around the place, as well.
“You could see what it meant to him on Sunday. He was cock-a-hoop to have made a contribution and won a Cup. He’s not done that for a while.
“Hopefully, it gives him a huge shot in the arm going forward.
“He’s a goalscoring phenomenon and that’s why I kept him around. He will get the opportunity going forward, there’s no question of that.
“Leigh’s just a natural, a born goalscorer and he’s still a fantastic finisher. It would have been remiss of me to let him go or think of loaning him out because we still thought he could make a positive impact for the remainder of the season.
“Do I feel vindicated? I will maybe assess that at the end of the season. I want him to play. I want him to contribute more and score more goals and get consistency in his fitness and performance levels.”
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