LEIGH GRIFFITHS was hailed as “a phenomenon” when he came off the substitutes’ bench to fire in Celtic’s third goal in extra-time in the historic Scottish Cup Final against Hearts on December 20 2020.
The striker pounced in a packed penalty area to thump a rebound high past former team-mate Craig Gordon to give the Hoops a 3-2 lead in their bid for the sensational quadruple treble.
However, the stubborn Tynecastle outfit refused to roll over and claimed a third goal to take the game to penalty-kicks.
SITDOWN STRIKER…Leigh Griffiths pounces to score Celtic’s third goal in the quadruple treble Scottish Cup final success over Hearts on December 20 2020.
Griffiths tucked his effort in the corner and Callum McGregor did likewise with his kick. Ryan Christie, though, saw his attempt pushed away by Gordon in a moment Hoops’ hopes of everlasting glory were stalled.
But rookie keeper Conor Hazard, given the nod ahead of £4.5million Greek flop Vasilis Barkas and Scotland international Scott Bain, saved from Stephen Kinglsey before Mikey Johnston made no mistake with Celtic’s fourth attempt.
The Northern Ireland shotstopper performed heroics again to deny Craig Whighton and it was all down to Kristoffer Ajer to thump Celtic into the annals of fame.
The towering Norwegian raced forward and simply walloped a ferocious drive straight down the middle as Gordon took off for his left.
The Parkhead side had claimed a TWELFTH successive domestic honour, an extraordinary achievement which will surely never be surpassed.
JOY BHOY…Leigh Griffiths celebrates his strike with Mikey Johnston in the background.
A relieved Lenny applauded veteran skipper Scott Brown, winning his 22nd trophy at the age of 35, and the other players who completed Mission Impossible at a deserted Hampden with Covid restrictions still in place.
However, the manager was quick to mention the impact of Griffiths as a sub nine minutes into extra-time when he replaced Odsonne Edouard.
Lennon looked at the penalty-box predatory instincts of the frontman and said: “He’s a goalscoring phenomenon.”
Today, exactly two years later, Griffiths is without a club.
It’s an astonishing somersault in fortunes for the 32-year-old forward who claimed 123 goals in his seven and a half years at Parkhead following his £1.2million arrival from Wolves, bought by Lennon in his first stint in the Hoops dug-out.
The one-time fans’ favourite signed a 12-month extension on July 1 last year, but, apart from a brief second-half performance in the friendly against West Ham in front of a handful of supporters in the east end of Glasgow, he never played for Celtic again.
Griffiths agreed a season-long loan at Dundee, but was returned to the Hoops at the turn of the year after an unconvincing spell where he scored only three goals in 17 appearances.
There was no way back, though, for the player at Parkhead and his contract was ripped up with the forward being paid the remaining six months of his terms.
CRASH…Kristoffer Ajer thunders an unstoppable penalty-kick past Craig Gordon for the Cup winner.
HISTORY BHOY…Kristoffer Ajer runs away in delight after sealing the incredible quadruple treble.
On February 8, Griffiths signed for third-tier Falkirk to boost their hopes of a Championship Play-Off place, but, after a mere two goals in 12 outings, left at the end of an unsuccessful campaign.
In August this year, he had a short stint in Australia with minnows Mandurah City, but returned to Scotland shortly afterwards.
Griffiths, acclaimed by many as the finest striker of a ball at Celtic in his hey day, is now training with Livingston without any hope of a deal with the West Lothian outfit.
A Hampden hero only two years ago in a game which will be indelibly printed in Celtic history is now firmly out in the cold.
Ironically, Lennon, who departed Parkhead only two months after the quadruple success following a 1-0 loss to Ross County in Dingwall, had a word of warning for Griffiths just three days after his crucial goal in the unprecedented encounter at the national stadium.
Asked if he thought his player was lacking basic fitness or simply match fitness, the Northern Irishman, as CQN reported, answered: “Both. General conditioning and match fitness.
THE CUP THAT CHEERS…Scott Brown holds aloft the Scottish Cup with Leigh Griffiths (right) joining in the celebrations.
“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.
“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.
“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.
THE FINAL GOAL…Leigh Griffiths is about to be congratulated for his equaliser against Aberdeen at Pittodrie on April 21 2021 – his last strike for Celtic.
“He’s a goalscoring phenomenon. 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.”
On April 21 – four months and a day after the momentous match in Mount Florida – Griffiths scored a stoppage-time time header in a 1-1 draw with Aberdeen at Pittodrie.
It was his last hurrah at Celtic.