‘Street fighter’ Leigh Griffiths ready to prove doubters wrong says Neil Lennon

If Leigh Griffiths retains his place up front for Celtic tonight, as Neil Lennon suggests he might, it will be the first time since October 2018 that the striker has started two consecutive games for the Scottish champions.

Leigh Griffiths has the motivation and ability to silence his critics says Celtic manager Neil Lennon. Picture: SNS.

That is a startling measure of just how dramatically Griffiths’ career has stalled as he has addressed both the mental health and physical fitness issues which have plagued him.

It is also why Celtic manager Lennon, while delighted by Griffiths’ scoring return to action in the Scottish Cup against Partick Thistle on Saturday, continues to preach caution over the 29-year-old.

Celtic: Get the latest team news, match previews and reports

Celtic: Get the latest team news, match previews and reports

Lennon is ready to keep faith with Griffiths when Celtic resume their Premiership title defence against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park but insists it is far too early to assess whether the Scotland international can recover his previous optimum form and condition.

“Leigh is feeling good about himself but I think we need to take it week by week and not think he is going to be the player he was two years ago tomorrow night,” said Lennon.

“We just have to let that happen naturally. The more he trains and the more fit he stays, the more chance he has of getting back to top form again. I thought he did pretty well for the 65 or 70 minutes he was on at Firhill.”

Griffiths has been written off in many quarters and Lennon feels the motivation to prove his critics wrong can work in his favour.

“Of course he wants to silence his doubters,” added Lennon. “He’s a wee street fighter. He’s got the rascal, a bit of the devil, in him at times – but I like that. More importantly, he knows how to play centre-forward.

“It will do him good to start games and he’s got a good chance of starting again tomorrow night.

“Leigh is 29 now and his experience and his goal record is as good as anyone’s. We want him to be a team player but we want him to do what he does best – scoring goals.

“He’s got more maturity about him but he’s not lost that will to win. There’s a quietness about him now and he just wants to get on with his business.”

Lennon has injury problems to contend with in central defence for the trip to Ayrshire with Nir Bitton set to be sidelined for at least two weeks after suffering a hamstring strain on Saturday.

Kristoffer Ajer is available to return but Lennon will also consider Jozo Simunovic, despite the injury-prone Croatian’s previous difficulties in playing on artificial pitches such as the one at Rugby Park.

“Jozo is in the squad and in contention to play,” said Lennon. “I had a chat with him about playing on artificial pitches and he has made himself available. I thought he looked very good on Saturday when he came on for Nir, so I was pleased with that.

“Artificial pitches are not conducive at times to the way we want to play. But we won at Hamilton, although we obviously lost at Livingston.

“You can’t use it as an excuse. We know we’ve got a challenge on Wednesday, we know how difficult Rugby Park can be.

“Alex Dyer has gone back a little bit to the way they were playing under Steve Clarke and they had a good win in the cup at the weekend. But we are motivated and are going to be strong. We are looking forward to getting out there and playing under the lights.

“In certain situations, such as with Jozo for example, you have to take the pitch into consideration. Tom Rogic is another one who has had knee issues before. So we have to assess it and think about it but at the moment, we want to be as strong as possible. We have a few injuries, so we want to pick the strongest team we can on Wednesday.

“I’m not a fan of artificial pitches, I never have been. But that’s just crappy old me. I think the game should be played on grass.

“At the moment, we have three teams in the top flight who play on plastic. We can’t keep using it as an excuse if we don’t play well or drop points.

“But it doesn’t help. Ideally, you want to play on grass because we train on grass and play on grass most of the time.

“By the way, we can lose on grass as well. So while plastic is different, we have to take the surface out of the equation and concentrate on the 
opposition.”