Leigh Griffiths suffers another frustrating night for Scotland

Leigh Griffiths fires a shot goalwards but was denied by the post. Picture: SNS.
Leigh Griffiths fires a shot goalwards but was denied by the post. Picture: SNS.
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When Scotland squads and starting line-ups have been named by Gordon Strachan over the past few years, Leigh Griffiths has suffered more than a few blows to his self esteem.

On the night when Strachan looked to him to salvage the country’s World Cup qualifying hopes, it was a painful dunt in the back which brought Griffiths his latest dose of frustration at international level.

It is now 12 caps and no goals for the Celtic striker whose evening was cut short when he was unable to recover from the damage caused by the impact of Slovenia goalkeeper Jan Oblak’s knee just before the interval.

Griffiths at least managed to end the evening with a smile on his face, sharing the collective relief and delight experienced by the Scots when Chris Martin’s 88th minute goal earned a precious and certainly merited victory.

On a personal level, however, he may be starting to wonder when he is ever going to catch a break in his bid to prove he can establish himself as Scotland’s first choice front man.

Since making his first competitive start for Scotland almost four years ago, when he led the line admirably in a dead rubber 1-0 victory in Croatia during the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, Griffiths has been unable to persuade 
Strachan he merits the job on a regular basis.

Similar reservations over Griffiths’ ability to operate at the highest level have also been expressed at club level. Despite his prolific success domestically with Celtic, it took him some time to break his scoring duck for the Scottish champions in Europe.

He has addressed that perceived failing in the last 18 months or so, albeit none of his nine goals for Celtic in continental competition have been scored in the group stage of the Champions League.

Griffiths, of course, has been displaced as first choice striker at his club by Moussa Dembele who has immediately shown he has the knack of finding the net on the big occasion, notably on the high profile stage provided by the Champions League.

Dembele’s success saw Griffiths come into Strachan’s side last night having not started a match for Celtic since December. Having previously been left on the sidelines so often by Scotland when he was the first name on the teamsheet every week for the Scottish champions, the irony of the situation was impossible to ignore. On the night when Strachan needed a victory as never before during his tenure, it was Griffiths who was handed the responsibility at the point of the spear.

His 12th appearance for his country, however, proved to be a hugely frustrating experience for the 26-year-old. Although it lasted just a 
little more than 45 minutes, it was certainly not without its opportunities to make it a far more positive and memorable night of his career.

Griffiths would have expected to do better with his first sight of goal, albeit he was caught slightly behind the flightpath of a Stuart Armstrong cross which he headed wide of the post.

He had no excuses at all for failing to convert the second chance which came his way, this time when he had shown good movement inside the area to get on the end of a Robert Snodgrass cross from the left in the 35th minute. Griffiths will still be wondering how he contrived to smack his left-foot shot from around four yards out against the crossbar.

If that was wasteful in the extreme, Griffiths was desperately unfortunate just a minute later. Armstrong motored down the right to pick him out with a low cutback. Griffiths could scarcely have struck his first time, right-foot shot any sweeter but watched in agony as the ball rebounded off the inside of the post and eventually to safety.

It was agony of a different kind, inflicted by Oblak’s knee into the small of his back just before half-time, which effectively ended Griffiths’ involvement. He re-appeared after the break but was clearly still in discomfort and was quickly replaced by Steven Naismith. It was Martin, disappointingly jeered onto the pitch by a section of the home fans when he came on for James Morrison late on, who provided the decisive moment. When Strachan needed it most, one of his 
strikers had finally come good.