Griffiths happy to be back after ‘dark times’
CELTIC striker Leigh Griffiths is ready to get back to his best after coming through the dark days of illness and injury that have plagued him of late. The forward climbed off the bench to score the third goal in his side’s 3-0 win at Hamilton from a free-kick, and his celebration was a cathartic release after weeks of frustration on the sidelines.
“It is always nice to be back on the pitch,” Griffiths said. “It has been a frustrating five, six weeks for me in which I have been trying to build myself back up to full fitness. To come back and score like that was great.
“It was dark times. There was a lot of frustration. But you just have to get on with it. You have to do your rehab properly. It didn’t help that I was ill for 10 days. That took up a chunk of my recovery time. But it was good to be back in the team and hopefully I’ll be back firing on all cylinders.”
Griffiths’ initial injury was a different calf problem from the recurring ones that have dogged his career, but he feels the time out to focus on his fitness was required.
“These things happen [the calf injury],” he said. “Speaking with the management and the sports science staff, there is no secret that I was a bit heavier looking, but over the course of the six weeks I have managed to drop a lot of the weight and I feel a lot sharper. If I can continue working hard on the training pitch then, when I get my chance, I can take it.”
He is now hoping to have a similar impact against Rosenborg on Thursday night in Norway after scoring with his first touch in Hamilton.
“The manager pulled me aside with about 20 minutes left and said ‘go on and do what you can’,” he said. “I think it was actually my first touch that I scored with! I was on the pitch for five, six minutes before I touched the ball. And I think I was on the touchline waiting for about five, six minutes before that.
“It is always nice to come back with a goal. It is an important three points and we will look forward to Thursday now.”
HAMILTON ACADEMICAL 0 CELTIC 3
IT may be a stretch to describe Celtic’s win over Hamilton yesterday as the perfect warm- up for their must- win Europa League match against Rosenborg in Norway on Thursday for the simple fact that they barely broke sweat.
That is not the concern of their manager Brendan Rodgers though, who could hardly have hoped for plainer sailing to the top of the league for the first time this season as his men came through the trip to Lanarkshire unscathed. There were no worries, for example, about Craig Gordon making his return from injury on Hamilton’s artificial surface, given that he did not actually have to make a dive during the entire match.
Goals from Ryan Christie, Scott Sinclair and the returning Leigh Griffiths off the bench got the job done for the champions, with the final member of that triumvirate particularly relishing his return to the scoresheet.
“It was great to see Leigh scoring. That’s important for strikers,” said Rodgers. “At 25 yards in, he’s as good as anyone. He’s always a threat to the goal when he’s on the pitch.
“Leigh’s a brilliant striker of the ball and he placed it perfectly in the corner.
“I’m delighted for him because he’s been out a long time.
“We were questioning whether to involve him on the Astro but he wanted to play and he got his goal.”
Celtic were at Hamilton from the off, and Christie should have done better than place his side-foot effort wide from the edge of the area after robbing Mickel Miller.
Almost the entire match was attack versus defence, with Hamilton’s back five camped so deep they were almost holding up the self-service queue in the Sainsbury’s behind the goal. It was no surprise when the visitors hit in front a quarter of an hour in, as a well- worked corner between Callum McGregor and Odsonne Edouard saw the latter release the former in the area with a cheeky backheel, and the midfielder got his head up to pick out the arriving Christie who made no mistake this time as he placed his shot high into the net.
Sinclair had been quiet, but he should have moved Celtic further ahead after a delightful dink by Olivier Ntcham sent him through on Gary Woods, with the Hamilton keeper able to turn away the winger’s low effort.
The s carcit y of Hamilton chances made it all the more frustrating for the home side when Rakish Bingham completely wasted the one they did have in the first half, ballooning a free-kick over the bar from a great position on the edge of the area.
His wastefulness was almost compounded moments later as an Edouard shot on the turn was deflected inches wide, but Accies managed to hang on in there until the break with just the one goal to claw back.
That deficit was almost doubled soon after the restart though, as Ntcham broke into the box on to Edouard’s lay-off and fired high into the side-netting.
The match settled back into its familiar pattern of Celtic completely dominating possession, but they were finding it more difficult to pick holes in the massed ranks of the home defence despite the amount of ball they were having.
They finally managed to remove the scintilla of doubt about the destination of the points with a little over 20 minutes to go, although there was a touch of fortune about the goal when it came. A deep cross from Mikael Lustig found Sinclair in the area, with his header back across goal coming off the luckless Scott Martin and finding the far corner.
That was the cue for Rodgers to protect some of his key men with the trip to Norway in mind, with Edouard and Kieran Tierney taking a well-earned rest and Griffiths and Emilio Izaguirre getting some welcome game-time.
Griffiths in particular looked determined to make up for the time he had lost to injury since his last
Celtic midfielder Ryan Christie hammers home the opener yesterday, his