‘He should be delighted with himself’ - Neil Lennon’s praise for Leigh Griffiths

Leigh Griffiths marked his Celtic return with a goal as Neil Lennon’s champions got their pre-season preparations off to a winning start in Austria.The Scotland striker had not featured since December due to a combination of injury and personal issues.

Leigh Griffiths scored against Pinkafeld. Picture: SNS
Leigh Griffiths scored against Pinkafeld. Picture: SNS

But he bounced back from his off-field problems to score an equaliser for Celtic as the Parkhead side recovered from losing a surprise opener to thrash the Austrian amateurs SC Pinkafeld 6-1.

Lennon was encouraged to see the 28-year-old make his first start in seven months.

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“In the main pretty good,” was the Celtic manager’s summary of Griffiths’ display.

“His set plays weren’t great but obviously that will come with the more game time he has. He gets a goal from two yards and I love those goals. He’s the one who can get those types. He should be delighted with himself.”

Griffths started only six league matches for Celtic last season. He was troubled by injuries in the early part of the campaign then took a complete break while he addressed mental health issues.

He trained throughout the close season in a bid to force his way back into first team and, speaking earlier this month, Lennon suggested the successful return of Griffiths would be the equivalent of a 
£6 million signing for Celtic. While these remain early days in his recovery process, both the player and his manager will be heartened by his immediate impact in what was Celtic’s first pre-season friendly.

Griffiths was joined in a youthful starting line-up by Ryan Christie, who was also making his comeback after suffering a horror facial injury in a clash with Aberdeen’s Dom Ball during the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-finals, and captain for the day Scott Sinclair.

Celtic started in determined fashion but with the temperature soaring it was no surprise when they began to flag amid the Austrian heatwave.

Pinkafeld took their chance to grab a surprise lead on the half-hour mark as 21-year-old goalkeeper Conor Hazard spilled a long-range Dominik Sperl free-kick straight at Michael Pahr, who slotted home from close range. The hosts’ lead lasted just six minutes as Griffiths grabbed his first strike since November.

Anthony Ralston freed Calvin Miller down the right and his cut-back left Griffiths with a simple tap-in as he got back to doing what he does best.

Griffiths almost scored a second before he and eight members of the starting line-up were replaced at the interval, firing against the base of the post following good play by Miller and Armstrong Oko-Flex. Mikey Johnston fired the Parkhead side ahead within 30 seconds of the restart and there were further goals from Ewan Henderson, Oko-Flex, Jack Aitchison and Johnston.

Celtic play Austrian third division side Wiener SC on Saturday.