A court appearance over a speeding charge apparently had to be adjourned to allow Leigh Griffiths to take his place in the starting line-up against Suduva. Only fitting, then, that the striker finally stepped out of the slow lane in which he seemed to have become stuck as he approached the 100-goal mark for Celtic.
Griffiths might have done more than that. It felt like he was stepping out of the shadows. It might have been no mere accident that there seemed a real thrust about him last night even before he joined the elite band of strikers to hit the ton for the Parkhead club.
With Lyon pushing hard to prise Moussa Dembele, pictured, from the Scottish champions and Odsonne Edouard only now making his way back from injury, Griffiths was the man on a European night under the floodlights at Celtic Park. And not for the first time he delivered. Indeed, it is a testament to the growth of a player whose scoring credentials beyond the Scottish scene were doubted when he joined in a £850,000 move from Wolves in January 2014 that last night brought him his 12th goal for Celtic in continental competition.
It has long been the 28-year-old’s destiny he would become the 29th player to score 100 Celtic goals, and the first to do so since John Hartson in 2006. Griffiths, more than anyone, didn’t expect it to take so long to motor up to the storied mark. In the autumn of 2017, he was admitting that, with 95 goals then bagged in Celtic colours, he considered he could home in on the three-figure tally by Christmas.
Injuries, and the emergence of Edouard meant that last night, incredibly, was only his fifth goal of 2018. You can’t keep a good man down, though, and it wasn’t only his curling free-kick 100-clubber of a goal that was precise and sleek. His all-round build-up play, often overlooked for its intelligence and crispness, exhibited such sparkling traits.
Appearing a little off it either side of the summer break – not helped by his set of debilitating ailments – Griffiths is a man who needed the weight lifted off of reaching that magical number. Equally, he is also a player Celtic need to keep carrying a scoring weight for them.
Such as Dembele and Edouard, understandably, will see Celtic as a career stop-off, rather than a career destination. There are a host of other strikers Griffiths has played with since his Celtic debut in February 2014 for whom the Parkhead club will be a career stop-off because they are simply not good enough – a certain Amido Balde came off the bench the same day Griffiths did for his first Celtic outing.
Yet, the Leither, a complicated character with a personal life to match, keeps trucking on when it comes to contributing to the Celtic cause. He has said often he doesn’t want to trade in his life at Parkhead for any other. It is a faithfulness that is admirable in the modern era, and also rewarding. More, indeed, than Griffiths has been given credit for at times. For although last night might have brought his 100th goal for Celtic, last year he became the first player since Kris Boyd a decade earlier to join the 100 club for league goals in Scotland’s top flight after his combined scoring feats with Celtic and Hibernian. The scent and hunger Griffiths has for goals suggests last night was not some sort of end point but one that might offer a new beginning.