Why Leigh Griffiths is still a key player for Celtic and Scotland's best striker - you can't argue with stats

As the clock ticked past 50 minutes at Rugby Park on Wednesday, Leigh Griffiths pulled left into space to receive a pass from Callum McGregor. One touch, another to set himself, then a sweep of his left foot sent the ball, as it has so often, into the back of the opponent's net, albeit aided by some questionable goalkeeping.

Leigh Griffiths aimed his celebration at Kris Boyd. Picture: SNS

It was the second in Celtic's 3-1 win over Kilmarnock, and his 109th for the club.

Every goal from the 29-year-old brings a release of frustration. The last 12 months, perhaps longer, have been difficult for the player.

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The strike against Partick Thistle in the Scottish Cup fourth round on Saturday was met with a celebration which suggested he was fed up hearing and reading all the speculation and opinions surrounding him. Bizarrely the celebration was criticised by Charlie Nicholas.

The 29-year-old has a great record for Celtic. Picture: SNS

The goal against Killie saw Griffiths point to pundit Kris Boyd in the Sky Sports box before putting his finger to his mouth.

The ex-Rangers striker had said in December that the player had four weeks to save his career, questioning his professionalism. Following the match, Boyd once again questioned Griffiths.

"I'll go by stats because you can't argue with them," he said. "Brendan Rodgers was appointed manager in 2016 at Celtic Football Club and we heard the professionalism, the standard, the training levels went through the roof.

"I'm doing him a favour here, because I'll only include league games... there's been 135 league games played, Leigh Griffiths has played 34 of them. That suggests to me that you're not doing it in the training field."

It has been a tough last 12 months or so for the striker. Picture: SNS

Considering Griffiths' mental health issues, which saw him take a break from football, Boyd's comments brought understandable indignation and they were at best misguided. Or "ill-thought" as Graeme McGarry noted in his excellent column on the matter.

Grffiths' record

Boyd's said you can't argue with stats. It turns out you very much can.

As has been mentioned elsewhere, Griffiths hasn't played 34 leagues games since the 2016/2017 season. He has played 71. What Boyd probably meant to say was that he had started 34 league games.

Griffiths remains Celtic's best striker. Picture: SNS

There is no doubt that a player of Griffiths talent should have started more, and he may not have been as professional as some peers, certainly in terms of looking after his body. It may have contributed to calf and hamstring injuries he has suffered.

But he has had serious competition from Moussa Dembele and Odsonne Edouard. Two £20million-plus strikers who are likely to be French internationals in time. Then, of course, there was his time away from football.

Griffiths deserves a lot more respect for what he has achieved on the football field. In terms of numbers and stats, they hold up.

He is just shy of a goal every other game for Celtic since arriving in 2013. There was the 40-goal season under Ronny Deila. Brendan Rodgers certainly queried the player's decisions away from the field but he still played him.

The striker was crucial to Celtic reaching back-to-back Champions League group stages. He was handed starts against Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.

He has played 28 games against Rangers, Aberdeen, Hearts and Hibs in the last three and a bit seasons, providing 16 goals and assists

Griffiths currently averages 0.84 goals per 90 minute. It was 0.99 in 2015/2016, 0.8 the following campaign before dropping down to 0.64 in the 2017/2018.

In the past four full seasons, he has topped the Scottish Premiership charts for xG + XA per 90 minutes. In Layman's terms it simply means that there is no player who contributes more to a team's attacking play when he plays, whether it is getting in goal scoring positions or creating excellent chances for team-mates.

Pub or Scotland?

In the eyes of many, there will always be the 'what if?' question which will hang over his head. But he's had to deal with doubts and question marks ever since making his first steps in football.

This is a player who no club wanted to touch when he was a teenager, Tam Smith, head of Hutchison Vale youth football team in Edinburgh revealed. He was seen as a hard character to handle, that was until Livingston took the chance and reaped the rewards.

"Leigh Griffiths was here," Smith told A View from the Terrace. "His dad phoned me when he was 14. I'd heard he could be quite hard to handle, but he was brilliant. Every game he never gave less than 100 per cent. Some of the goals he scored were just outrageous.

"I remember saying to him one day, you'll either play for the Four in Hand pub for £20 a game or Scotland one day when I was trying to give him a lecture."

He is now Scotland's best striker, and perhaps that's where Kris Boyd's frustration lies, in that he hasn't featured for the national team since September 2018. He still presents the country's best chance at reaching a finals tournament in 22 years.

But from Livingston to Dundee, down to Wolves, back north to Hibs then, finally, Celtic, as well as being Scotland's best striker, his career has been littered with goals, 223 and counting. Who can argue against that stat?