Gordon Strachan plays down Griffiths’ squad chance

Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths. Picture: SNS
Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths. Picture: SNS
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GORDON Strachan has issued a cautious welcome to Leigh Griffiths’ return to scoring form, but has insisted the Celtic striker must prove his worth over a prolonged period.

The Scotland manager appeared to play down Griffiths’ resurgence when asked yesterday about his international prospects.

I think if you ask him about his form previous to that, it might not be as good as now. He has come good at the right time

Gordon Strachan

Griffiths is in line to be recalled to the Scotland squad ahead of the forthcoming games against Qatar and Ireland, with the latter fixture a crucial Euro 2016 qualifier. Strachan has been handed a setback by the news Steven Fletcher, who scored a hat-trick in Scotland’s last outing against Gibraltar, has been side-lined again at Sunderland with another ankle injury.

With the domestic seasons of other options such as English Championship strikers Steven May, Ross McCormack and Jordan Rhodes set to end this weekend, the Scotland manager admitted Griffiths’ current goals rush has come “at a good time”.

However, Strachan warned the striker he must look to continue producing the goods in the four games Celtic have left this season, starting against former club Dundee tomorrow night.

Griffiths has scored 14 goals since the turn of the year, including two hat-tricks in his last four games. He only struck four times before Christmas and is clearly benefiting from a more regular run of games under manager Ronny Deila, who admitted he was dissatisfied with the striker’s general fitness earlier in the season.

Strachan is keeping tabs on a player who won the last of his four Scotland caps against Belgium in September 2013. The striker has not featured in any Scotland squad since the friendly clash with Nigeria last May and has seen his international prospects suffer because of his infrequent appearances for his club earlier this season.

“He has been substitute up until maybe six games ago,” said Strachan yesterday. “His form in the last two months he can be pleased with, and so can Celtic. I think if you ask him about his form previous to that, it might not be as good as now.

“He has come good at the right time,” added the Scotland manager. “I wouldn’t use the words ‘all season long’ because I think he only scored about four goals up until six games ago. I might be wrong about the four or five goals, it’s something like that. But he is always in our mind, that’s for sure.”

Griffiths himself is not getting his hopes up yet, having claimed earlier this week that Celtic are his priority at present.

“I’ve said all along Scotland have got strikers who can score goals,” he said, following his latest hat-trick, against Dundee United on Sunday. “I am just trying to do as well as I can for myself and for Celtic. If Gordon Strachan picks me for the friendly and the qualifier, I would be delighted.

“If not, I will enjoy my summer and come back raring to go again for next season.” Strachan, who was speaking at the announcement of the Cheque Centre PFA Scotland manager of the year shortlist, addressed the problem of the lengthy interlude some players will have to cope with before the international fixtures in June.

Some English-based Scots complete their league season this weekend and must then sit tight before the friendly against Qatar on 5 June and the Euro 2016 qualifier against the Republic of Ireland seven days later.

“We will have players who need a game and players who don’t need games – it changes from week to week due to the play-offs,” said Strachan, who revealed that there will be one squad named for the clash with Qatar at Easter Road and then another one for the trip to Dublin.

“We will need to wait and see who will be in the first squad to play against Qatar,” he said. “We will have one squad for Qatar, have a break and then have another squad.”