Leigh Griffiths goes from Hampden heaven to hell

Leigh Griffith celebrates his second goal, but the joy was ended by Harry Kane, left. Main photograph: John Devlin
Leigh Griffith celebrates his second goal, but the joy was ended by Harry Kane, left. Main photograph: John Devlin
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As Leigh Griffiths tucked his son Jacob into bed last night there was no bedtime fairytale for the four-year-old birthday boy.

Earlier in the evening his dad had struck two sensational free-kicks to set Scotland up for a result that would have served as an unforgettable birthday gift and gone down in football folklore. But every such myth or legend has a villain and Harry Kane stepped up assume that role.

As his second free-kick hit the back of the net to give Scotland an unexpected lead the Celtic striker looked to the skies. A couple of minutes later, as his Spurs counterpart hit back with a stoppage-time volley, he was on his knees.

“I was praying to God that we’d see the game out,” he said of his response to the sight of a second free-kick beating the England rearguard. Hot on the heels of his equaliser, which found the postage stamp corner of Joe Hart’s goal, the second perfectly-placed set piece put Scotland in the lead and sent Hampden into euphoric overload.

“It’s probably one of my best feelings in football when that second goal went in and that’s why I did half a lap of Hampden in celebration. I got carried away a bit and when the boys grabbed me I just wanted everyone to savour the moment because these moments don’t come around too often. When something like that happens, at that time of the game and on an occasion of such importance, against that quality of opposition, your mind just goes.”

At the national stadium and, according to text messages he received from his mates at the Highland pub in Ibiza, Scots dared to dream. Not since 1976, when Don Masson and Kenny Dalglish weighed in to give the home side a 2-1 win, had Scotland netted two goals in a home head-to-head with the Auld Enemy. With the match sprinting into time added on, it looked like Griffiths had conjured up a similar scoreline, to silence those who had given up on Gordon Strachan, his players and Griffiths’ ability to rise to the occasion in the dark blue shirt.

“When Chris [Martin] scored against Slovenia he kind of pulled me out of a hole and I said that after the game. But the manager kept faith in me and I repaid him with my first two goals for Scotland. Hopefully it’s the first of many.

“I had three shots on target today and, thankfully, two went in.

“At the first one, Charlie Mulgrew fancied it and I told him that I fancied it as well. He told me to get it on target and see what happens. At the second, Charlie gave me a pep talk by saying I’d scored one, so go and get a second. At the second, as soon as I bent it around the wall, I knew it was going in and I was away running already. I fell to my knees when Harry Kane scored. He is the top goalscorer in the Premier League for a reason and that’s what he does best.”

The Scotland goals, coming in the 84th and 90th minutes, left England staring at their first defeat of the World Cup qualifying campaign and gave the home fans hope they could force their way back into the mix. It was a joyous few minutes before Kane intervened to add his late strike to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s 70th-minute opener and command a share of the points.

“There’s a lot of people wanted to be at the game and couldn’t for obvious reasons. So whether they were watching back home or in Ibiza, like my mates, I think they had a good ten-minute spell to enjoy.

“I spoke to a couple before the game, wishing me well, and I got a few messages afterwards saying the Highlander pub in Ibiza went absolutely nuts! I wish I was flying over to join them but it’s my wee boy’s birthday today so that’s me, I’ll be tucking him into bed later.“

Prior to kick-off a draw with the Group F leaders would have been greeted more enthusiastically but having contrived to snatch something other than three points from the jaws of victory, there was a devastation in the home dressing room, with players well aware how close they had veered towards a place in the history books.

“I have mixed emotions. I am happy and devastated for the rest of the lads. But in the end that could still be a valuable point for us. Listen, it’s all about the team and we showed that if we put our minds to it we can get any kind or result.”

It leaves Griffiths with one heck of a tale to tell. Unfortunately, as is so often the case with Scotland, it is one missing the happy ending.