Celtic victory comes at a cost for Brendan Rodgers
With only a few days of the transfer window left, Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers and his Hibernian counterpart Neil Lennon know they have to enlist the help of a quality striker if the remainder of their season is to go to plan, while circumstances mean that the league leaders are now also in the market for a goalkeeper to provide back-up to Dorus De Vries, who has been elevated from a place on the bench.
Celtic emerged from the match with all three points but it came at a cost as matchwinner Griffiths and goalkeeper Craig Gordon both hobbled off and are now expected to miss out on the club’s upcoming Europa League tie with Zenit St Petersburg. The first leg is on 15 February and Rodgers is preparing himself for the worst.
The goalscorer pulled up with a calf strain just minutes after he had made the breakthrough and his Scotland team-mate joined him on the injury list when he came off worst in a challenge with Hibernian’s Efe Ambrose before the interval and failed to emerge for the start of the second half. He was replaced by De Vries and a scan is expected to reveal damage to the medial ligament of his left knee, dictating a lengthy rehabilitation.
“I am disappointed for him because when he came on in the last game he scored and then he scored again on Saturday. It is disappointing to lose him again now,” said midfielder Olivier Ntcham, pictured, as he mulled over Griffiths’ anticipated lay-off.
“I think we have a good squad. If Leigh is injured we are a little bit disappointed, but Moussa [Dembele] and [Odsonne] Edouard can come in and lead the line so that is good for us.”
Possibly not good enough. While Griffiths has been in scoring form and made life uncomfortable for the Hibs defenders in his half an hour on the pitch, Dembele is looking less and less like the player who was being valued in excess of £30 million this time last year.
Unsettled by the speculation and possibly needing more game time, the man who has again been linked with a move, only succeeded in getting himself booked for diving when he joined the fray. But Ntcham backs the 21-year-old Frenchman to deliver if he sticks around and Celtic are forced to depend on him. “Every time you play you get better. If you don’t play it is a little bit difficult to come into the game and start the game. You have to get the rhythm.
“He is nice. He doesn’t read the stories about him. He just concentrates on what is happening on the pitch. That is it. If you start to worry about what is being said you lose your head. You have to be focused on the pitch and that is it. I think his focus is strong.”
But Rodgers is likely to step up his chase to land Chelsea’s Charly Musonda on loan to give himself options in that department, especially after seeing some of his other attackers, such as Scott Sinclair and James Forrest, pass up openings on Saturday.
The league champions are not the only ones in the hunt for a player who can bury chances, though. Lennon again saw his side compete in virtually every area of the park on Saturday but a bluntness at the top of the team is making life difficult for a side who were ousted from the Scottish Cup last weekend and only have the league to concentrate on.
Griffiths’ goal came in the 28th minute when Paul Hanlon got a touch on Kieran Tierney’s diagonal ball deep into the box but the Hibs captain only succeeded in steering it into the path of Griffiths, who sent his shot across Ofir Marciano and inside the far post. A more clinical Hibs could have at least garnered a point from the contest, though. Brandon Barker was the worst offender, failing to bury his effort while through one on one with Gordon in the first half. In a bright second half, where Hibs’ upped their game, they once again failed to convert possession into points as they struggled with decision-making and finding the killer pass in the final third.
“I felt we had them on the back foot for large parts of the game,” said defender Darren McGregor. “But you need to capitalise when you get opportunities. When you get an opportunity, you need to make the most of it. Maybe we were a wee bit guilty of not making the most of our opportunities.”
It is a familiar refrain and one that they seem likely to repeat time and again unless Lennon can convince the board to release the cash needed to bring in a player of the right calibre and pull something out the bag before the window closes this week.