A first hat-trick in four years for Leigh Griffiths provided another indication the Celtic striker is making a real fist at rediscovering his irrepressible best following his mental health and fitness issues of 2019. Yet the 29-year-old didn’t restrict such indicators to the 5-0 whipping of St Mirren that pushed the gap over Rangers, with two games in hand, to 16 points.
There was the impishness of old in how he dealt with his post-match media duties, especially when the subject turned to the club’s ancient adversaries and a trip to Ibrox next up for Neil Lennon’s men. It’s not simply that Griffiths is itching to play in that derby after a restorative two months when he has plundered goals – eight in all – and partnered Odsonne Edouard in Celtic’s revitalising 3-2 team reshaping. He presented it as some sort of destiny.
“I was born for Ibrox,” Griffiths said. “I’ve never been beaten there with Celtic. I have started there twice and scored twice with two victories. If the manager [right]starts me, or has me on the bench to go on and make an impact, I’ll be ready to go.
“I’m desperate to play in a game of that magnitude but what the starting 11 is, that’s up to the manager and the coaching staff. There will probably be another ten players itching to be on the bench so he’s got a difficult job.”
The forward says there is more to come from him “all day long” after his contribution at a canter against a St Mirren side devoid of the obduracy of their last visit – which manager Jim Goodwin confessed was not unrelated to picking a team with an eye on the critical relegation tussle with Hearts on Wednesday.
The interplay between Edouard – who netted his 28th of the season when he spun 180 degrees at the edge of the area before planting in the corner for the fourth early in the second period – and Griffiths would likely have done for the Paisley team whatever line-up they fielded.
The visitors were unfortunate that, for the first of what proved his fifth triple for Celtic, Griffiths appeared offside after ghosting in behind the St Mirren backline to tuck away a flighted-in ball from his French strike partner. An opener fashioned after only 18 minutes, Griffiths then created and finished a classy second on the stroke of half-time – his “favourite” of an afternoon that earned him a first hat-trick since he netted three times in an 8-1 win over Hamilton Accies in January 2016.
“I wanted to get the ball out of my feet and shoot, but the defender got back too quickly. I then managed to work a wee one-two with Tom [Rogic] and just clip the ball over the keeper which was a nice finish.”
Griffiths was matter of fact about his 74th minute third – “ was just what I normally do, get it out my feet and hit the target” – but when he opened his body, and lazered the ball into the corner from 20 yards, it was so vintage him, that it said everything about his recovery to a status that so many thought was permanently beyond him.
The further sheen for Celtic came with a fifth goal in stoppage time, an 89th league goal in a league campaign in which they have harvested 61 points from a possible 66: the result of Sam Foley’s penalty-box trip on substitute Hatem Abd Elhamed that allowed Callum McGregor his 13th goal of the season, from the spot.
Goodwin was philosophical about his team’s heaviest defeat of the season on an afternoon he elected to leave key performer Ilkay Durmus on the bench. “There was an element of picking a team today with a view to Wednesday night,” the St Mirren manager said. “We set up in a manner to give us the best chance of picking up something from the game. But I’d be lying if I said Wednesday night wasn’t more important.
“We go into every game trying to win it but we knew how difficult it would be here. Celtic have played 16 games here in the league and won 15, with Rangers the only team to beat them. They put four, five, six or seven past teams all the time at Parkhead and we’re on the receiving end of a sore one this afternoon. But these games against the Old Firm won’t define our season.”