IF YOU were appointed manager of a football club who were fighting to avoid relegation, what would you expect from your playing staff? It’s obvious, really.
Commitment to the cause, hard work and a disciplined approach to the game. No self-indulgent outbreaks of petulance, no unnecessary brushes with the authorities, no nonsense.
That’s what Pat Fenlon had every right to expect when he became manager of Hibernian, and that’s what he has got from some of his players, perhaps even the majority. What he has got from Leigh Griffiths, however, is something else entirely.
Signed on loan from Wolves last summer, initially until 9 January, Griffiths was eager to make an impact at the club he has always supported. Now, just a fortnight after having his loan extended until the end of the season, he is making an impact, all right - but not quite in the way that he or Fenlon had hoped.
The 21-year-old striker has never been the soul of serenity on the pitch, but even by his own standards the past few weeks have seen a disturbing lack of self-control. First, on 10 December, he made a gesture at Rangers fans during Hibs’ 2-0 defeat which earned him a ban for offensive behaviour.
Then, just days after getting his wish and having his stay at Easter Road extended, he did it again – to his own team’s supporters, this time - during Hibs’ Scottish Cup win at Cowdenbeath. That also got him a one-match ban, which rules him out of the next round of the cup, when Hibs are at home to Kilmarnock on Saturday week.
Unsurprisingly, Fenlon cut a frustrated figure when asked about the striker’s behaviour at a press conference in the wake of that incident at Cowdenbeath, and made it clear that Griffiths had to learn his lesson.
“He’s got to learn quickly or he’s not going to play,” the manager said.
“If that is what is going to continue throughout the season, then he’s not going to play, because I can’t have players that are going to be suspended on a regular basis.
“I’ve spoken to Leigh about this. We had a conversation after the Rangers game and obviously it didn’t register too quickly.”
Perhaps it didn’t register at all, for at the weekend Griffiths was seen to make another gesture in Hibs’ home defeat by St Johnstone which could bring about more disciplinary action from the SFA’s compliance officer.
A charge has yet to be made, and even if it is forthcoming there is no saying what the verdict will be, but that’s not the point.
Given Hibs’ plight and his own recent record, not to mention Fenlon’s warnings, Griffiths should have known to avoid any actions which could bring him to the attention of the authorities.
Lots of us have our doubts about the workings of the SFA’s new fast-track procedures, and about a society in which so many people can take offence at the slightest thing, but that’s not the point either.
We may not think that a fleeting gesture after a goal is scored merits a one-match ban, but those in charge of the game do. And until they have a change of heart, Griffiths, like other players, just has to knuckle under.
When Hibs decided to contest the player’s suspension over the Cowdenbeath incident, Fenlon explained that they were looking for a bit of clarity.
They were not convinced that what Griffiths had done was a red-card offence, so wanted the SFA to explain their position. The governing body duly did so, ruling that Griffiths had breached rule 200 with “offensive, insulting or abusive gestures”.
Alleged provocation by supporters – either your own club’s or the opposition’s – has yet to be accepted as an extenuating circumstance. Being a bit slow on the uptake isn’t a valid excuse either. In other words, Griffiths hasn’t got a leg to stand on.
During the last days of the old year when he was yet to find out if his loan deal was being extended, Griffiths said that ideally he would stay at the club for the long term. “To be honest, I never want to leave,” were his words.
Hibs rewarded that apparent commitment by extending his loan. He has not exactly gone out of his way to show his gratitude.