The paucity of capable Scotland strikers as well as a human desire to see a likeable individual put personal problems firmly behind him has undoubtedly bolstered the clamour to see Leigh Griffths back as a regular starter for Celtic.
The 29-year-old’s inclusion in the squad for the champions’ hosting of Livingston this afternoon might appear to have moved such a scenario potentially closer. Neil Lennon yesterday stated he was “happy with the progress” made by Griffiths – who scored twice for the club’s reserve side earlier this week.
The Celtic manager said the striker had not missed a day’s training and was “in a good place” although he also noted that Griffiths’ fitness still requires to be built up.
Yet Lennon was also keen to stress that “impact sub” was likely to be Griffiths’ role for the foreseeable future due to the fact pre-eminent central striker Odsonne Edouard was in a very special place.
Celtic have 11 games between now and 28 December. Edouard, who boasts 24 goals this season between his club exploits and remarkable returns for the France under-21 side, cannot be expected to perform in all of these. Moreover, Lennon is used to being told repeatedly about the dangers of over-burdening his most influential performer. Yet, the Celtic manager counters by pointing to the game time churned out by top talents across the football firmament.
“When you look at all the great players, they all play in all the games,” Lennon said. “They all go away with their countries but play with their clubs. Messi was away in Saudi Arabia with Argentina but comes back to play for Barcelona. Firmino, Mane, Salah…they play Champions League, Premier League and internationals. Listen, eventually we will want to give him a break when we feel it’s necessary for him but at the moment there’s no need to do that.
“We know he’s one injury away but everyone is, whether that be in training or in games. He’s in brilliant form, so he’s playing. He’s never given me any inclination that he wants a rest. He just keeps going.
“You look at it and if we’re reasonably comfortable in a game with ten to 15 minutes to go, to be on the safe side you take him off. I want him to lead the line for as long as he wants. Because he does it very well.”
One player who will require an immediate rest is the on-loan Southampton winger Mohamed Elyounoussi.
“He has a stress reaction. If it were to carry on there’s a possibility of a fracture so we have to be mindful of that,” said Lennon of the Norwegian international. “It’s a case of shutting him down for a week or two and hopefully he’ll be OK for the [Betfred Cup] final [against Rangers on 8 December].”
Before that, Celtic must face Livingston who have a remarkable defensive record against the side.
The West Lothian club have kept three successive clean sheets against the league leaders, claiming two 0-0 draws with Liam Kelly between the sticks last season before Matija Sarkic played his part in a 2-0 win in October.
By comparison, Aberdeen have shipped ten goals over the same number of games against Celtic while even Rangers, with the best recent record against their Glasgow rivals, have let in four.
Livingston manager Gary Holt said: “These records are for others to talk about. I don’t bat an eyelid about statistics like that – my job is to win the next game of football.”