It came as something of a jolting throwback to see Leigh Griffiths last week painted once more as an errant footballer.
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers may have framed his comments supportively. The Irishman claimed that he was seeking to help his “brilliant lad” of a striker “find a way every day to stabilise” his life, so he could exhibit the “total devotion” to being a footballer that halts the “cycle of breaking down” that the currently injured forward finds himself in. But in offering the damning line “you have to train well, work well”, the unmistakeable impression given was of a Griffiths who has deviated from the professional path the 26-year-old appeared to have stuck to unwaveringly in recent seasons.
It is unclear whether the Scotland international will have shaken off a calf injury troubling him of late to feature in Celtic’s assignment away to St Johnstone this afternoon. What is crystal clear is that in the home ranks will be a former team-mate who is willing to give Griffiths the benefit of the doubt.
Murray Davidson’s time at Livingston from 2006 to 2009 dovetailed with last season’s top-scoring Scottish player, plunderer of 40 goals. The midfielder has kept in touch with his fellow east coaster because he has a real regard for Griffith’s personality and pluck.
“Firstly, Leigh is a lovely guy who doesn’t have a bad bone in his body,” said the 28-year-old. “He maybe gets misunderstood because he put himself in positions maybe when he was younger and maybe shouldn’t have. In the last 18 months he seems to have gotten away from that. Last season he was top scorer, player of the year, he was outstanding. As a person, I’ve not got a bad word to say about him.
“When I was at Livingston he was always the first on the training field, always kicking balls into the net because he just loves scoring goals. The managers were always saying to him to calm down a bit.
“That’s all that he wanted, just to go out with a bag of ball and smash them in the net. That’s probably the reason he’s such a good finisher. I don’t know what’s happened now, maybe it’s a warning to give him a wee jolt.
“Sometimes when managers say things they are maybe trying to get a reaction in the right way. Maybe he hasn’t been training – I don’t know, I can’t comment on that.
“But from what I saw when he was a team-mate of mine there certainly wasn’t an attitude problem or training [issue] because he hardly missed a day’s training.
“When I spoke to him, I think he’s had a wee calf problem which probably hasn’t helped. Since I’ve known him for years he’s hardly had an injury. I can’t remember him missing games.
“He’s obviously frustrated. [Moussa] Dembele has come in and been excellent. At times, especially at a club like Celtic, you’ve got to be patient. He just wants to play football, to train and knowing him, all he wants to do is score. So I think a part of it on his behalf will definitely be frustration. If he gets back in the team I’ve no doubt he’ll have a positive impact.”
Murray said he would be “glad” if Griffiths didn’t play this afternoon: “I know what he’s capable of.” He has played only 15 minutes in 2017 but across his last six games at the end of last year, he netted in four of them.
“But you look last week, I watched the game against Hearts,” Davidson said. “They had [Tom] Rogic, [Stuart] Armstrong, [Moussa] Dembele and Griffiths out. Four of their main attacking players injured and still went and won 4-0 against a very strong Hearts team. It doesn’t matter who plays. You know the strength in the Celtic squad. They’re going to have others to hurt you.”
That does not mean that Davidson is in any way defeatist about what lies ahead at McDiarmid Park today, and nor should he be. St Johnstone ran Celtic mighty close in Glasgow’s east end only ten days ago, before losing to a late Dedryck Boyata goal from a set-piece – as did Aberdeen in midweek, as Rodgers’ side chalked up game 28 in their unbeaten domestic season, and an 18th straight league win.
Yet, the win away to Partick Thistle by Tommy Wright’s men in midweek meant only against the champions-elect have they failed to register a victory in their four games since the winter shutdown. They were level on points with fourth-placed Hearts before the Edinburgh club’s win yesterday and, once again, they are the top-flight club getting the biggest bang for their budget.
“Someone has to end [Celtic’s run] so I don’t see any reason why it can’t be us,” Davidson said. “After it took until the set piece in the 72nd minute for them to break us down last week we know that if we are organised, work hard, try and limit them in the final third then we are more than capable of putting on a good show.”