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Celtic: Leigh Griffiths faces ‘big test’ next term

Leigh Griffiths is joined by BT Sport commentator Gary McAllister as they promote the channel's live SPFL coverage. Picture: SNS

Leigh Griffiths is joined by BT Sport commentator Gary McAllister as they promote the channel's live SPFL coverage. Picture: SNS

  • by AIDAN SMITH
 

Leigh Griffiths has packed in a fair bit already. A rumbustious career in football garnering him back-page headlines and some on the front.

An early hat-trick with new club Celtic to endear him to the faithful and those doubters. Maybe he will end this season as a pub-quiz question, having earned two league winners’ medals in the same campaign. But the real fun – the real reason for playing the game – will only begin next season.

“I’ve always believed that you haven’t made it as a footballer unless you’ve played in the Champions League,” the striker said yesterday. “It’s the pinnacle of the club game and there’s no bigger stage. Hopefully Celtic can do the business in the qualifiers and get to the group stages where we draw a big team and show what we can do.”

Griffiths revealed he’d set himself this target back in his Dundee days. This wasn’t presumptuousness on his part; he knew he would have to work hard to get to that level but, once there, he would be entitled to call it an achievement. “I used to watch the Champions League back then in the house. I was always trying to get tickets for Celtic games and would be buzzing when I did. I was at the 1-1 draw with Man U and a Barcelona match a few years ago when Celtic got beat 3-2. They were great occasions and hopefully I can be involved in a few more for the club.”

Such matches would be the next “test” for Griffiths and after persuading Scotland coach Gordon Strachan of his credentials he is ready for it. “People didn’t think I was good enough for international level but in Gordon’s eyes I was good enough to start two very important qualifiers. If I can do that, this would be the next step.” Griffiths was delighted to be called back into the Scotland squad last week, even though he did not figure in the friendly win in Poland. “I was surprised to be included with Snoddy [Robert Snodgrass] dropping out. It was good to get away with the boys again after a few games not being involved. I’d have liked to have got on the pitch but the way the boys played I wasn’t too disappointed because that was a great result.”

He hopes to get the call again come May and the next friendly against Nigeria in London but knows this will be dependent on good form for his club. Did he not feel “pressure” at being asked to replace Gary Hooper? “Erm, yeah,” said Griffiths, not entirely convincingly. On loan at Hibs last season, he could point to his own goal-grabbing exploits which, unlike Hooper, sometimes required him to make and finish the strikes all by himself. Still, he admired his predecessor’s work.

“When Gary came up to Celtic no-one had really heard of him but he hit the ground running. He was a fox in the box; you couldn’t take your eyes off him. I’ve started well and hopefully I can keep that going. I want to reach double figures before the season’s over.”

Griffiths’ next chance to score will be at Kilmarnock this Friday. A televised night game will mean “a long day in the hotel but hopefully the boys will be up for it”. Celtic want to reach 100 points, he added, and to achieve the best-ever defensive record. He has good memories of Rugby Park, having scored his first-ever hat-trick there last season. “That was a special moment and hopefully I can put in a good performance on Friday and maybe get a goal or two.”

Griffiths, of course, has made a quick return to Scotland, having started the season back at Wolverhampton Wanderers following his Easter Road loan. He was frustrated at not getting a game for them after a good start had brought 13 goals, although that’s all behind him.

He wishes Wolves well in their quest for promotion back to the Championship, boldly predicting they will go the rest of the campaign unbeaten. But he’s a Celtic man now.

• BT Sport will bring fans six live SPFL matches in March including Kilmarnock v Celtic this Friday. Visit btsport.com

 

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