There has been an outpouring of mutual appreciation in the build up to Hibernian’s visit to Celtic Park this afternoon.
Former Celtic player and manager Neil Lennon has said he won’t celebrate if his men manage to do something that has proved beyond so many others and beat last season’s treble winners, while Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths has promised to stifle his usual jubilation at scoring should he succeed in netting against his boyhood heroes.
And the love-in did not end there as individuals were exalted and managers’ accomplishments praised. Among those who were talked up were the Hibs-supporting Parkhead striker, who added a Champions League goal against Anderlecht to his increasing domestic haul.
Lennon was the man who signed Griffiths for Celtic, at the start of 2014, and says the belief he had in him when he lured him from Wolves has long since been vindicated.
In his first full season in Glasgow he scored 20 goals for club and country and he doubled that the following term. Despite wrestling Moussa Dembele for striking supremacy, he added another 20 to his personal tally throughout the last campaign and has already contributed eight this season.
“He’s had a brilliant two-and-a-half, three years,” Lennon said of Griffiths. “What did he get? 40-odd goals in one season? He was terrific again last season when he was called upon. Dembele was in great form so he had to bide his time. But it’s not just for Celtic. For Scotland, he’s played really, really well.
“He has taken his game on and he is a goal threat from many, many positions. His movement is good and he has got stronger, he looks like he’s got that wee yard of pace and he’s finding another yard. That all comes with confidence.
“The one thing he could always do, and the reason we bought him, was that he could score goals. When I bought him, his goal record was fantastic, no matter where he had been. Whether it was Livingston, Dundee, here at Hibs or Wolves, it was a goal in two. And he has taken that on. He’s becoming more and more rounded as a striker.”
With goals in Europe and on the international stage, Lennon says Griffiths also seems to be taking great delight in making a mockery of critics who doubted he had the quality to produce at that level. “He scored in the Champions League group stages for Celtic as well as international games so he is proving a lot of people wrong and you have to admire that about him. The fact that he is starting ahead of Dembele just now shows you exactly what Brendan [Rodgers, the current Celtic boss] thinks of him.
“He has worked at his game and he is a free-kick specialist as well so the range of goals he scores is great. For a little guy he is great in the air and his timing is superb.
“He can score left foot, right foot, headers and he always seems to hit the target no matter if he is 20 yards out, he is inside or outside the box He is better than he was three years ago when we brought him in and I am pleased for him. He is a threat but he is just one of a list of worries I have when we play Celtic.”
Experienced full-back Steven Whittaker knows there are others, including the youngster who has helped keep him out the Scotland starting line up in recent gatherings, Kieran Tierney. “I think it shows in his play the character and how good a player he is,” said Whittaker. “It is clear he is determined. He is steely and we will have to try to nullify him.”