THE other day, Leigh Griffiths told how he owed everything to Ronny Deila, and would do all within his power to “dig him out of a hole”.
With his first domestic double of the season, he did more than that yesterday. He dumped Aberdeen into a crater marked “championship also-rans”. In October. In a season when, in the first two months, the Pittodrie side crafted their best ever start to a league season.
Deila, with the profound fiscal advantages his club can muster, shouldn’t whinge about it being a matter of fact for outsiders that his team wins the title. However, there can be good, bad and indifferent league wins.
In that sense, there is significance to the six-point lead his team have now established after 12 games, placing the Norwegian’s efforts in a positive light. Not since 2006 have Celtic enjoyed a healthier lead at this juncture. Nine years ago, they were, in fact, 13 points in front. Whatever the impression, it didn’t always prove even vaguely competitive with Rangers in the top flight, or entirely uncompetitive without them.
In an enjoyably open contest, wherein Derek McInnes’ side exhibited menace but were ultimately dismantled by hosts a class above them, Griffiths’ contribution towered above others. The little forward did so literally to set his team on their way by opening the scoring on the stroke of the interval.
Now Celtic will never have another goalscorer or forward talent of Henrik Larsson’s calibre. There is, though, something Larsson-esque about Griffiths’ ability to turn games with moments of brilliance.
The 25-year-old did with his stonking strike in the League Cup victory at Hearts in midweek. Yesterday, he was at it again in the manner in which he hung in the air and twisted his body to get between Paul Quinn and Ash Taylor to power in an inch-perfect header. The opportunity for the now 16-goal striker was provided by an exquisite delivery from deep on the left by Kieran Tierney.
Griffiths said: “There’s not many times I will beat Ash Taylor in the air. Sometimes I need a ladder to outjump him. It was great ball in.” He added: “I [feel like I can score every game] because I am playing with confidence and if a chance comes my way I will try and put it away. The quicker I get to 20, then I will be aiming towards 30. I have set myself a target of 20 by January and if I do that I’ll be happy.”
Griffiths’ 16th was a rifled-in penalty that followed a rush-of-blood wipeout of Kris Commons by Taylor just inside the box that referee Willie Collum made a smart call on.
“The challenge was one that didn’t need to be made,” admitted Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes, who lamented his team’s “decision-making” for the next 15 minutes in allowing Celtic to score a third.
For that strike, Thomas Rogic weaved his way towards the edge of the area and fed James Forrest, who flipped the ball over Quinn then slotted past Danny Ward.
Aberdeen claimed a consolation when Adam Rooney looped a header over Craig Gordon from Hayes’ free-kick a minute from time, but it was the Irish forward’s first half failure to find the target that helped condemn Aberdeen to a sixth straight game without a victory. A period during which they have taken only one league point from a possible 15.
Just after the half-hour mark Rooney squandered an outstanding chance to open the scoring when he nodded past with the goal gaping after Hayes had dropped a cross right on to his head. McInnes was invited to contrast this moment with Griffith’s game changer. He had no appetite for “criticising” a player he said he would rather have for him than against him, but acknowledged Celtic’s principal goal source.
McInnes said: “Celtic have good players and it’s important you nullify the space. I watched the game on Wednesday night and Griffiths came up with something out of nothing.
“It was a dour game, there wasn’t a lot happening in either box and he managed to get his team in front against Hearts. Today, a ball in the box and he is up against it with two big centre-backs in the air and he makes it his – he is a boy playing with a lot of confidence.”
So are Celtic, with three impressive victories since their desultory display in Molde.
Their bullying appeals to the club’s “ultras” in the Green Brigade, who unfurled a banner before kick-off which read: “The northern lights of Aberdeen, switched off in 1985”.
Now, it seems that the only Premiership spotlight that will shine on the Pittodrie club will centre around the chase for a second place now occupied by Hearts.