‘We took our foot off the gas’ says Celtic’s Leigh Griffiths

Leigh Griffiths fires a devastating, left-footed shot into the net to make it 2-0. Photograph: Mark Runnacles/Getty
Leigh Griffiths fires a devastating, left-footed shot into the net to make it 2-0. Photograph: Mark Runnacles/Getty
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Leigh Griffiths finally has a 5-1 derby to call his own. Filling in for the injured Moussa Dembele, the striker led the line superbly as Celtic battered Rangers en route to the most comprehensive victory of their 2016/17 campaign.

Griffiths already had a strained relationship with the much-celebrated football result, having played during Hibs’ 2012 Scottish Cup final defeat by Hearts, before he was made to resent the scoreline further after Rangers travelled to Celtic Park in September.

The first 5-1 game, as it’ll now be known, was a watershed moment in his season, and might even prove to be one for his entire Celtic career. Undoubtedly the first-choice striker at the time, Griffiths had started the campaign on fire with seven goals in his first nine games. When injury forced him from the squad, Dembele grabbed his chance with both hands, netting a historic 
hat-trick and cementing himself in the starting XI at Griffiths’ expense.

It’s been a frustrating period for the forward who, for the next week or so at least, remains the Scottish Premiership’s reigning player of the year. Given the chance to start against Rangers for the first time this season here yesterday, he sure took his frustrations out on the opposing defence.

His goal, scored after Scott Sinclair had given Celtic the lead, was everything we’ve come to expect of the striker: confident, ruthless, devastating. Though you can never call a game over after 20 minutes, this one was as good as dead when the attacker blasted past Wes Foderingham to give Celtic the kind of advantage they were never likely to throw away.

After Callum McGregor had killed the game for good, Griffiths helped pile on the misery with a wicked cross from the right, allowing Dedryck Boyata to head home from close range, before Mikael Lustig added the cherry on top.

With Dembele possibly out for the rest of the campaign, and Brendan Rodgers likely to bring in another striker in the summer, this is a crucial period for the Scottish international.

Asked if he enjoyed this 5-1 win more, Griffiths said: “Yes because I wasn’t involved in the first one. To be involved in a game like this, it’s massive.

“I think it’s a real statement to come here and play the way we did. We took our foot off the gas a little bit the last ten minutes. It was five going on seven or eight with the amount of chances we created. We played to our maximum today.

“[Celebrating with the crowd at full-time] felt amazing. I was part of the squad when we came here on New Years’ Eve and unfortunately I didn’t get on the pitch. But just to be a part of that was massive for me. I’ve had my injuries this season, but with Moussa’s injury it gives me the chance to step up and score goals between now and the end of the season.”

Not all 5-1s are created equal. While the scoreline may have been the same as the first derby of the season, the gulf in quality between the sides appeared even bigger. Without a title race to speak of, talk has consistently centred around Rangers’ need to cut it down to size. Instead, it’s going in the opposite direction, and Rangers are now staring into the abyss, wondering how on earth they’re going to bridge it.

“Disappointed isn’t a strong enough word,” said Rangers’ goalscorer Kenny Miller. “The boys feel ashamed to play a part in a performance like that. There’s a lot of hard work will need to go in from us over the close season. But I’m bored talking about us being more competitive or putting up a challenge. It’s just words. A lot of things need to be put right.”