Leigh Griffiths urges Deila to play two up front

IF YOU can’t beat him, join him. Leigh Griffiths has seen his hard-earned status as Celtic’s first choice striker usurped in the early weeks of the new season by Nadir Ciftci but believes they could yet prove to be a divine combination for Ronny Deila’s side.

Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths. Picture: Gordon Fraser
Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths. Picture: Gordon Fraser
Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths. Picture: Gordon Fraser

Having topped the Celtic scoring charts with 20 goals last season, Griffiths is having to prove himself all over again following the Scottish champions’ £1.5 million summer signing of Ciftci.

So far, the Turkish striker has been picked ahead of Griffiths for all four of Celtic’s Champions League qualifiers.

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It is only on domestic business, where Ciftci is serving a six-match suspension for biting Jim McAlister while playing for Dundee United at the end of last season, that Griffiths has been leading the line in Deila’s 4-2-3-1 formation.

It is a system the Celtic coach rarely strays from but Griffiths feels there would be merit in trying to develop a partnership with Ciftci.

“I don’t see why Nadir and myself couldn’t play together,” said the 24-year-old. “It’s not often the manager goes with two up front but Nadir has got attributes I could play off and vice versa.

“It could be an ideal pairing. The big man likes to hold the ball up and link up with the other players and I like to stretch defenders and go behind.

“It could be a match made in heaven but we’ll have to wait and see if the gaffer ever uses us as a pair. I just took it on the chin when I was left out of the starting line-up for the Champions League games. The manager obviously felt Nadir would offer better qualities than I could in those games. But I’ve come on in every game and had an impact. I scored in Iceland against Stjarnan and did well against Qarabag when I came on.

“So, if I’m not selected against Malmo in the next game, hopefully I can have an impact as a sub. Nadir is a bigger guy than me and physically stronger than me. When we are playing Champions League games, you need someone up there who is going to hold the ball in, link up play and get runners in behind them.

“If we are losing the game or needing a goal, I think the manager would turn to me because I can provide it.”

While Ciftci continues to serve his ban tonight, Griffiths will have another opportunity to shine when Celtic face

Kilmarnock at Rugby Park in the Scottish Premiership.

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“This is a chance for me to put down a marker,” he said. “It’s all about the squad and rotation nowadays and the manager will have his reasons for not having played me. OK, I haven’t been starting in Europe but I’ve done well domestically. I scored against Ross County on the opening day and had a couple of half-chances against Partick on Sunday. Come Wednesday night I’ll be raring to go.

“Last season was disappointing for me from a selfish point of view because I wasn’t involved as much as I wanted to be in the first half of the season.

“That was when the manager, John Collins and myself had a talk. They told me that there were aspects of my game I had to work on if I was to get back in.

“I did that and, over the summer, I looked back and thought that if I’d only done it quicker then I would’ve been back in the side earlier.

“My whole game is based on goals and, if I don’t score, then I’m disappointed in myself. But now the most important thing for me is that I’ve made a contribution and helped us take the three points. I took a lot of satisfaction from setting up Tom Rogic for his goal against Thistle on Sunday and whether it’s him, me or someone else scoring, if we’re winning then we’re all doing well.

“I think that on Sunday I held the ball up better than I’ve done before. It’s something I can still improve on, though.

“If a chance comes my way then I’ll try and put it in the back of the net but the most important thing for Celtic is to win the league and, if we’re top of the pile come May, then I’ll be happy no matter who got the goals.”