Grif­fiths happy to be back after ‘dark times’

The Herald on Sunday - - SPORT - BY GRAEME McGARRY

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.”


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

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