RONNY DEILA has been urged to place his faith in Leigh Griffiths as Celtic’s best chance of breaching the Inter Milan defence in Glasgow on Thursday night.
Griffiths has failed to score in any of his eight European appearances for the Scottish champions so far. But Robert Snodgrass, who has played with Griffiths for both Livingston and Scotland, believes the 24-year-old is ready to break that duck this week.
Celtic manager Deila has options in attack for the first leg of the Europa League last 32 tie against Inter with John Guidetti and Anthony Stokes also in contention for the central striking position.
But Hull City midfielder Snodgrass, currently back home in Glasgow as he continues his recovery from a serious knee injury, is adamant Griffiths’ recent domestic form should earn him a starting slot.
Griffiths has scored four goals in his past five matches for Celtic, his latest coming in Saturday’s 2-1 Premiership victory at St Johnstone which Snodgrass witnessed as a pundit for Sky Sports.
“Celtic need to play Leigh against Inter as he’s on fire just now,” said Snodgrass. “I’ve watched him closely and he is working hard for the team. He could have had four goals in the first 45 minutes on Saturday, so I think you need to play him on Thursday.
“He is the only player in the Celtic front line who can stretch a defence. Stokes, Guidetti and Kris Commons, if he’s fit, all like the ball to come to feet. They are all ‘number 10s’ as such. Leigh is the only one who can stretch a defence and push them back.
“I watched Leigh a lot when he was on loan at Hibs and he was also the same when I played with him at Livingston when he was younger. He would shoot from every possible angle. At times you are thinking ‘what is he doing?’ but to him that’s just natural, because he is hungry for goals.
“It’s a great attribute to have. He’s got that freshness, he’s on his toes all the time. Give him the ball and he’ll try to score. But you can see the Celtic coaching staff have worked with him to get him to work hard for the team. I think you are seeing that now. I was at the League Cup semi-final against Rangers and he was always working hard in and around Lee McCulloch and Darren McGregor. He was exactly the same at St Johnstone on Saturday, keeping defenders occupied and working hard for the team.”
Griffiths’ tireless running in a lone striker role when Scotland secured a notable 1-0 win over Croatia in Zagreb in June 2013 was appreciated by Snodgrass who scored the goal that night.
“Gordon Strachan didn’t just put Leigh in the team for that game hoping to be lucky,” added Snodgrass. “He picked him because he’s got great movement and can stretch teams. He also has a lethal left foot.
“Players like Leigh excite fans by getting them onto the edge of their seats. Hopefully he can continue to do that on Thursday night. It would be great to see him play in a game like that.
“All he has ever needed was a level of maturity to kick on in his career and the only way you get that is by playing in big games.”
Snodgrass has been plying his trade at club level in England since 2008 and is conscious of the diminished status of the game in his homeland. He believes any success Celtic have against Inter would provide a much needed boost to how it is perceived elsewhere.
“It’s not rocket science, people can see the level Scottish football is at right now,” said Snodgrass. “I would love to see Celtic do well on Thursday because it would put out a statement to the rest of Europe that they are building something.
“I don’t think Ronny Deila is getting the credit he deserves yet. People think it’s just a case of Celtic turning up to win the league or cups in Scotland.
“But he’s a good manager and I think he is building something. The board have got to try and back him as well, to keep adding signings to see what he can achieve.
“With the new TV deal in England announced last week, we all saw the figures. The team that finishes bottom of the English Premier League will earn £100 million. Celtic would have to win the Scottish Premiership 50 times to earn that. It’s crazy.
“Scottish football has to do something to try and get back to the level it was at when Celtic were reaching the last 16 of the Champions League. The domestic league needs Rangers back in it to get the broadcasters and sponsors paying more. The whole Celtic-Rangers thing is what you need to get people involved again.”
lRobert Snodgrass was speaking at his former primary school, St Anne’s in Glasgow, to promote the Tesco Bank Football Challenge in partnership with the Scottish FA.