When Leigh Griffiths committed himself to Celtic until 2020 last month, the striker stated his aim by then was to have carved out a place among the club’s famous predators that ensured his picture being hung outside the stadium.
The commission for a 30ft-high image of him to wallpaper Celtic Park might yet be some way off. This evening, though, the 25-year-old could be standing tall among the club’s greatest goalscorers of the past three decades.
Only seven players have bagged 50 goals for the club in under 100 appearances since Charlie Nicholas did so in 1982, with the select band comprising Henrik Larsson, John Hartson, Brian McClair, Andy Walker, Pierre van Hooijdonk, Gary Hooper and Scott McDonald.
Nicholas – who also made nine substitute appearances for the club – reached the half century on his 62nd start. Away to Dundee United tonight, Griffiths – who has also come off the bench 26 times – will make his 60th full appearance and is therefore in a position to create history.
A goal in his next two games and he will have bagged 50 goals in fewer starts than any other Celtic player in the modern era.
That should happen since, in the past 14 months, Griffiths has scored 39 goals in 54 appearances, and never gone more than two games without scoring. It is form that eclipses Larsson’s early scoring form in Scotland – before he hit hyperdrive in the plundering stakes – and drew respect from the Swede’s old frontline partner, Chris Sutton. A member of the 50 club, his regular use in midfield and defence prevented him reaching the half ton in fewer than 100 games.
“Griffiths has had a lot of sub appearances, but it’s still an incredible record he’s got,” he said. “Celtic have scored quite a few goals this season, but you wouldn’t say they’ve been scintillating in the way they’ve attacked. But it just shows the reliance on Leigh Griffiths. When he’s not in the team, it’s really evident.
“[Nadir] Ciftci hasn’t really done it so far. It hasn’t happened for him, has it? He’s a different type, but Griffiths has always been a natural scorer throughout his career. There have been times, it’s fair to say, where off-the-pitch stuff has led him down the wrong route. But his attitude on the pitch has always been good for me. I don’t think there’s ever be any doubt about that. He’s got himself fitter and he’s an integral player for Celtic.”
At the halfway point of the season, Griffiths is sitting on 22 goals. No other player with the Scottish champions has made it into double figures, which for Sutton is less a cause of celebration over one man’s efforts and more a concern when assessing the contributions others are able to make in the 4-2-3-1 system that deprives Griffiths of a forward to play directly off.
“I think it’s fair to say that should be better. When you look at last season, by the end of it you had Stefan Johansen with 13, but you had Kris Commons [with 16 goals]. I look at Celtic this season, which players have played better from last season? There aren’t that many. [Kieran] Tierney’s come to the fore, he wasn’t playing last season. [Tom] Rogic’s done a bit better, you’d also of course say Griffiths. But then after that, I think you’d be struggling
“I think the situation make for an over-reliance on one source of goals. I’m sure Ronny’s trying to address that, but then so is every club in Britain. Everybody wants another striker. Interesting, he went with 4-4-2 at the weekend [with Carlton Cole at Stranraer] , and a lot of fans would like to see that more regularly.
“In the end, though, it doesn’t matter what system you play, as long as you are creative and winning.
“But I don’t think Ronny will go with 4-4-2 long term because look at the amount of so-called number 10s they’ve got at the club, it’s ridiculous. You’ve got [Scott] Allan, you’ve got Rogic, [Ryan] Christie, Commons, Johansen – so I don’t think Ronny will, long term, go with the two up top.
“He certainly needs to address the situation because if Griffiths gets injured, and you would hope that doesn’t happen, then it’s a big concern. The chances are over a long season he’s going to have his time out. At that point you’re going to need another reliable striker.”
The 50 club
LEIGH GRIFFITHS starts 59, subs 26, goals 49
CHARLIE NICHOLAS 62, 9, 50
PIERRE VAN HOOIJDONK 72, 3, 50
JOHN HARTSON 72, 23, 50
BRIAN MCCLAIR 72, 19, 50
GARY HOOPER 81, 5, 50
ANDY WALKER 81, 11, 50
HENRIK LARSSON 82, 1, 50
SCOTT MCDONALD 89, 6, 50