Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers has insisted there is nothing untoward about Leigh Griffiths’ absence from his starting line-up.
The Scotland striker has been an unused substitute in Celtic’s last three matches with last season’s top scorer Moussa Dembele and on-loan Paris Saint-Germain teenager Odsonne Edouard preferred .
Griffiths, who has started only one of the Scottish champions’ last nine fixtures, has previously been criticised by the Celtic manager for his level of training and lifestyle away from the pitch.
But, when asked about the 27-year-old’s situation, Rodgers was adamant his decision to leave him on the sidelines was purely down to footballing reasons. He said: “I’m picking what I think is the best team. Odsonne is coming off a hat-trick against Motherwell recently, where he was brilliant, and he performed well when he came on against Anderlecht in the Champions League. It’s about picking players who are in a good moment and it’s a long season.
“Leigh is a fantastic young striker for us and what I have now is three strikers who can contribute, depending on what type of game I need us to play. Moussa and Leigh have their qualities and Odsonne is a combination of both and I thought he did well against Hibs on Sunday.”
Asked how Griffiths has responded to being left out, Rodgers replied: “I don’t know. You would need to ask him. I can only speak about him if you speak about every single player that doesn’t play.
“I respect that he’s Scottish and I respect that he plays for Scotland but, if you ask me about Leigh, then you have to ask why Moussa Dembele or Kristoffer Ajer isn’t playing. Or why Erik Sviatchenko isn’t playing. If you don’t want to ask me about them, then…”
Celtic will look to extend their record unbeaten domestic run to 69 games and strengthen their position at the top of the Premiership when they host Hamilton Accies tonight.
Hibs came agonisingly close to ending the remarkable undefeated sequence in the 2-2 draw against Celtic on Sunday, when Mikael Lustig’s goal-line clearance denied Oli Shaw a late winner for the Easter Road men, but Rodgers has dismissed the relevance of preserving their invincibility against Scottish opposition.
“I’ve told the players that it doesn’t matter,” said Rodgers. “I’ve reiterated that to them to forget about the record. I’ve told them ‘You broke that several games ago.’
“It’s about performances for us. You can’t worry about the run. Our worry is our game and we want to play better. We want to defend better.
“The story for me was simple against Hibs. I thought we were very, very good up until they scored their first goal. Then the game becomes emotional.
“We lose control of our game and stop passing as crisply and cleanly as we had done. All of a sudden we concede a second goal. We still had chances but we could have lost the game too.
“But it also really focuses on how great these players have done because it shows in the run of 68 games what can happen in a game of football that could allow us to lose a game in the last minute.
“So for them to have the resilience that they’ve had is great. Like I say, how they played their football was very, very good. We just failed to control the emotion in the game when we conceded.
“We had drawn two games by this stage last year and we have five draws now. I think it tells you that last season we had the best season in Scottish football history and they don’t happen all the time.
“This year we’ve made a tremendous start and we’ve won the League Cup, we’re five clear with a game in hand at the top of the Premiership and we now have six games until the winter break.
“We’re in a great, great place. We can be better at seeing out games, but you have to give Hibs credit.”