HIBERNIAN have made a categorical denial that striker Leigh Griffiths assaulted both his manager and assistant manager following a training ground spat.
A report said that the player, who is on loan from English Premier League side Wolves, had no future at the capital club, alleging that he had headbutted Pat Fenlon before landing a punch on Billy Brown. The claims were refuted by the Leith side yesterday, with Griffiths expected at training along with the rest of the first-team squad this morning.
Club insiders revealed that there had been an ill-tempered dust-up during training between players and they admitted that Griffiths had been instructed to leave the training pitch to cool down. The player was seen walking away from the training ground before the squad’s session finished. But the suggestion that there had been an assault on the management team has been rejected.
“Hibernian will not tolerate, nor be distracted by, unverified and irresponsible ‘reporting’ in the media,” said a club statement yesterday.
“Contrary to a report, Leigh Griffiths did not headbutt manager Pat Fenlon nor punch assistant manager Billy Brown. The striker will be in the squad for Saturday’s crucial SPL fixture versus Dundee United.”
It is not the first time Griffiths has attracted negative publicity, since his arrival at the club he supported as a boy. Out of the reckoning at Wolves, who he joined in January 2011, he was happy to extend his loan spell at the capital club in January. But three ill-advised hand gestures during matches mean he has been rapped by the game’s governing bodies and served three suspensions. After the second gesture, he was warned by manager Fenlon that his on-field conduct would have to improve if he wanted to remain at the club and despite the third transgression he has been an integral part of Hibs’ quest to avoid relegation.
Fenlon has made it clear that he will not countenance indiscipline from his squad as he attempts to focus their attentions on survival, and has publicly criticised the actions of Griffiths following those on-field gestures but he spoke out yesterday in defence of the 21-year-old.
“Yesterday [Tuesday] was typical training ground stuff, and I’m surprised at the rubbish in the press,” said the Hibs manager. “As is usual for high-tempo training sessions, involving committed players and coaching staff, robust views and opinions are shared, and yesterday’s session was no different.”
Fenlon is understood to have had one of his regular meetings with director Scott Lindsay, who oversees football matters, on Tuesday afternoon but he did not even feel the flare-up merited a mention and the club’s hierarchy only learned of the training melee and the inflated claims when they saw the report yesterday. Fenlon was quick to allay their fears, though, telling them that there was little truth in the tale. “Leigh is a quality striker, and a lively personality, and will remain a key part of my team for the rest of the season,” he reiterated. “There’s nothing at all in the story. We just want to focus on winning games and getting up the table.”
It was a stance backed by players and the rest of the management team. Speaking last night, Brown claimed the training ground incident was nothing out of the ordinary and occurred at clubs the length and breadth of the country. He was unequivocal in his denial that either Fenlon or himself had been targeted by Griffiths. Neither Griffiths nor his agent were available for comment yesterday.