LEIGH Griffiths’ celebration after his goal against Partick Thistle on Saturday evening drew some scathing criticism from one former Celtic striker. 

Charlie Nicholas accused Griffiths, who has been working his way back to full fitness after spending an extended period out of football due to personal issues, of being more concerned with his detractors than helping the Parkhead club perform well by putting his fingers in his ears. 

His manager Neil Lennon, though, has no problem with his centre-forward hitting back at those who have claimed he was on his way out of the triple treble winners and even, in some extreme cases, finished at the top level. Quite the contrary. 

He is content for the Scotland internationalist, who he stressed was in contention to start once again in the Ladbrokes Premiership match against Kilmarnock at Rugby Park this evening, to use the barbs which have been aimed his way of late to spur him on as he continues his comeback.

Lennon knows the former Dundee, Hibernian and Wolves man is a free spirit and is quite happy for him, or any of his charges for that matter, to use the flak that flies in his direction as an added incentive to win matches and lift trophies.   
“Of course he wants to silence his critics,” he said. “He’s a wee street fighter. He’s got the rascal, a bit of the devil, in him at times, but I like that. I was just happy to see him scoring. That’s the main thing, far more than the nature of his celebrations.

“They can use the criticism as motivation. He’s been through it before, they have good character and good motivation. We’ll need all that going forward allied with the quality and will to win. We have that in abundance.”

Lennon understands, however, that it is unrealistic to expect too much of Griffiths, who spent over six months out last year after taking a sabbatical from the game, despite his goal at the weekend. 

The 29-year-old’s first goal since August has raised hopes among Scotland fans that he can force his way back into the national squad ahead of the Euro 2020 play-offs at the end of March. 

But his manager, who signed Polish striker Patryk Klimala for £3.5m last week, knows that he still needs time to get back to the level he was at before his off-field problems sidelined him.  

“I think he is feeling good about himself, but I think we need to take it week by week and not think he is going to be the player he was two years ago tomorrow night,” he said. “We just let that happen naturally. 

“I thought he did pretty well for the 65 or 70 minute he was on at Firhill. The more he trains and the more fit he stays the more chance he has of getting back to top form again. 

“He knows how to play centre forward. It will do him good to start games and he’s got a good chance of starting again tomorrow night.

“Leigh is 29 now and his experience and his goal record is as good as anyone’s. We want him to be a team player, but we want him to do what he does best – scoring goals.

“He’s got more maturity about him, but he’s not lost that will to win. There’s a quietness about him now and he just wants to get on with his business.”

The entire Celtic side, not just Griffiths, has been criticised since their defeat to Rangers at Parkhead at the end of last month. They are just two points ahead of their city rivals, who have a game in hand still to play, at the top of the Premiership table as they return to league action tonight. Many in Scottish football are expecting their long reign as the dominant force in the country to come to an end.   

Lennon knows Scott Brown and his team-mates failed to perform in the derby match, but he is still upbeat about their chances of winning a record-equalling ninth consecutive Scottish title and has urged his men to blank out the naysayers.    

“After a defeat there is a bit of gloom,” he said. “But not here. It’s probably a modern-day phenomenon.”