The brouhaha over actions by Leigh Griffiths and attitudes towards the Celtic striker were further stoked yesterday with claims by his manager, Neil Lennon, that the player was the victim of a “witch hunt” with some pursuing “a vendetta” against him.
The Celtic manager refused to criticise Griffiths for throwing his sock tape in the direction of a Kilmarnock supporter as he left Rugby Park on Wednesday night. He was, however, withering about the incident being included in Sportscene’s match package while there was no footage of the unpunished Alan Power tackle on Jeremie Frimpong which will result in the teenage right-back missing today’s hosting of Ross County with bone bruising.
“I don’t watch Sportscene but, for me, that’s ridiculous,” said the Celtic manager.
“It seems to me at times that there’s some sort of witch hunt against Griff.
“In the main, he’s been very good in the last six months in terms of his attitude and his behaviour on and off the field so I think that’s a bit over the top.”
The 3-1 win in Ayrshire brought Griffiths’ a second start and second goal since last week returning to the first XI for a domestic game following fourth months rebuilding his fitness, which came on the back of the forward being required to step away from the game at the start of 2019 to deal with personal issues.
The failure to take account of any circumstances beyond Griffiths’ control in appearing to blame his limited game time strictly on a failure to apply himself has placed Kris Boyd in the firing line for both Celtic’s support and their club’s hierarchy; the latter lodging a complaint with Sky over Boyd’s remarks.
Lennon declared himself “delighted” by that development. “Sometimes players need protecting – and not just from themselves,” the Celtic manager said. “It looks to me as though some people have a vendetta against him and they like to look at him to make headlines. Whereas I prefer him to do that by doing what he’s doing at the moment, which is scoring goals.”
Lennon took care not to be hyper-critical of Boyd himself, though. “They were just lacking a bit of tact,” he said. “Griff had to go through a difficult time, and he was out for quite a considerable period of time with it. I do think he’s back in a good place and that should be applauded.”
Instead, Griffiths has found himself called out for lobbing his sock tape towards an older home supporter in the Kilmarnock main stand who was giving him stick as he made his way to the technical area.
An inconsequential interaction Lennon maintained.
“It was a reaction to the abuse – I don’t think he was trying to hit the guy,” he said. “It was just a case of throwing it in his direction to say: ‘Enough’s enough – I don’t need this’. It’s a bit petty from the supporter because Leigh had done nothing during the game to warrant that kind of backlash.”
The normally mild-mannered Craig Gordon had a heated exchange with the Kilmarnock supporter after the tape was propelled towards him and Lennon had only supportive words for his substitute keeper over his decision to get involved.
“You could see how bad it was when that happened and I quite like seeing that response,” Lennon said.
“I think it’s good that my players stick up for themselves and each other. For me, Griff has done absolutely nothing wrong and I’d like to draw a line under it and move on to the game against Ross County.”
As the nine-in-a-row chasing champions look to establish a five-point lead over Rangers, who will have played two games fewer than their rivals ahead of meeting Hearts tomorrow, they could be without Christopher Jullien, who has been suffering with a viral complaint.
However, James Forrest could return after missing the first two post-shutdown fixtures.
Ross County co-boss Steven Ferguson says his side have taken encouragement from Wednesday’s goalless draw with Hearts.
He said: “We feel better going into a game against the champions after Wednesday night than we did on Saturday, so that’s a positive.
“The clean sheet was huge. Collectively we felt we defended really well and we’ll need to do that again at Celtic Park.