Leigh Griffiths has accused Alex McLeish of delivering him a “kick in the teeth” in already deciding Steven Naismith will start for Scotland against Israel next month.
The Celtic striker, who has four goals from his past four competitive starts for his country, admitted to “surprise” he was left out of the line-up for last week’s 2-0 victory over Albania with which Scotland kicked-off their Nations League campaign.
Naismith was not included in the original squad but McLeish believes his decision to start the Hearts attacker ahead of Griffiths was vindicated with a goalscoring display the Scotland manager has since said will make him hard to leave out for the trip to Israel in four weeks’ time.
Griffiths, who signed a new four-year deal with Celtic on Friday, has made no attempt to disguise his annoyance, though he has no quibble either with Naismith’s contribution or admitting he struggled in the 4-0 friendly defeat against Belgium that immediately preceded the Albania fixture.
“It’s a kick in the teeth. Not just for me but for all the strikers,” he said. “I was surprised [not to start against Albania]. These things happen. Naisy came in and did really well. He scored, ran about and did his job. But I was a bit surprised to see he [McLeish] has already selected him for the next game.
“But that’s his choice. If he wants to make that call, it’s fine. I’ll be working harder at my club to prove him wrong and to try to get in the side. I wouldn’t say I’d done enough [to get in the team for Albania] against Belgium anyway. I’ve had setbacks with Scotland before. I’ll just go away and work even harder to make sure I am on top form the next time the internationals come around.”
Griffiths finds himself attracting doubters once more over his challenges both at club and country to win starts, with Naismith’s re-emergence at international level and Brendan Rodgers handing Odsonne Edouard the central striker role at Celtic.
“I have been doubted my whole life but I keep shooting people down. It seems every season I have to prove people wrong,” said the 28-year-old. “I do my talking on the pitch. That means doing well for Celtic.”
Meanwhile, Griffiths disagreed with Rodgers’ assessment of the second yellow that earned Olivier Ntcham a red card in Celtic’s scoreless draw at St Mirren on Friday night. The Celtic manager criticised the performance of the officials on Friday and claimed referee Andrew Dallas was wrong to give Ntcham a second yellow for what he saw was simply the midfielder sliding in to block a clearance from Stephen McGinn. Griffiths, though, appeared to have a different slant on the late lunge.
“I called it straight away. I thought ‘uh-uh’. Sincy [Scott Sinclair] was sitting next to me [on the bench] and we thought he’d be off,” he said. “It was a striker’s challenge, if you like. I don’t want to say too much about the referee, though, as I’ve seen other folk getting hammered. At least if they try to cite me they might get my name wrong.”