THE Celtic players who will take to the field at Hampden tomorrow afternoon for the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen need no added incentive to perform.

Victory will, after all, take them to within just 90 minutes of becoming the first side in history to both lift the famous trophy and complete a domestic treble four years running.

Yet, the criticism which has been aimed in their direction by irate supporters and outspoken media pundits in the wake of their four game winless run will certainly make a triumph that bit sweeter.

Leigh Griffiths has frequently found himself in the firing line during his time at Parkhead, mainly as a result of his off-field exploits, and he has developed a thick skin as a result.

But even he has found the reaction to their dip in form since the international break – caused in no small part by the loss of six important first team players to coronavirus and injury - to be excessive.

The striker, who will be hoping to either start or feature as a substitute this weekend, admitted that it will give Neil Lennon’s men extra satisfaction to silence their many detractors with a triumph.

“It would be very good for us to get a final,” he said. “Ex-players and pundits who want to have a pop at us to try and keep themselves in a job can say what they want and claim that we’re in a crisis. But we don’t listen to them. Every club in the world will go through a difficult time at some stage. It so happens, ours is just now.

“But we’re only two points off what we were last season. So to call that a crisis? Last season we ended up winning the league by 13 points. So I wouldn’t call this a crisis just yet. We’ve had a couple of bad results, no doubt. But we’re hoping to turn things round and what better way to start than by getting to a cup final on Sunday.”

The 2-2 draw with Europa League rivals Lille in France on Thursday night was another indication that Celtic, who have Nir Bitton, Ryan Christie and Odsonne Edouard available again now after spells in quarantine, are on the road to recovery.

Griffiths, who has come off the bench to net against St Johnstone and Aberdeen since returning from injury, was never in any doubt that they would come through their rocky patch and is confident of a favourable outcome going into the semi-final.

“We know what we’ve got, we know the squad and we know the backroom staff we’ve got,” he said. “We’re all fighting for the same cause. Anybody who wants to disrupt us can try and try and try, but it’s not going to affect us. We’re a great squad and a tight knit group. Everybody plays for the badge, everybody’s fighting for the same cause.”

Griffiths personally has plenty of motivation to net against Derek McInnes’s side. He believes that helping Neil Lennon’s side get back to winning ways will be a good way to thank those who supported him when he took a sabbatical from football last year in order to address personal issues.

Finding the target tomorrow, too, would see the 30-year-old move ahead of the great Bobby Collins and into the top 20 of the Celtic all-time scoring charts. His tally currently stands at 117.

“I don’t just owe the manager I owe the team,” he said. “They’ve stuck by me through thick and thin. I’m trying to repay them as best as I can.

“I’ve got two goals coming off the bench this season. I think I’m only a couple short of breaking into the top 20 for goal scorers for this football club in its history.

“That would be a big achievement for me as well. As long as I’m contributing and helping the boys get three points or get through to cup finals, I’ll be more than delighted.”

Griffiths has certainly done that on numerous occasions during the past six years. He has lifted no fewer than 13 major trophies in his time as a player in the East End of Glasgow. But his hunger for success and silverware hasn’t been sated.

“The desire does increase,” he said. “We’ve won three straight trebles, now we want to make it four. We’re going for our own history. If it’s never been done then that’s another incentive to make sure we go and get the job done.

“I want to keep it going. I want to be remembered for the goals I’ve scored here. And if I can contribute more for the 10 then I’ll be absolutely delighted. There are still a lot of points to play for in the league and I want to do everything I can.

“Whether we’re going for our eighth, ninth, tenth trophy on the bounce, or it’s boys who are going for their first, we want everybody to be a part of it and to be successful.”

Griffiths will return to the scene of one of his greatest games tomorrow; he scored two stunning long-range free-kicks for Scotland late on in the Russia 2018 qualifier against England at Hampden back in 2017.

If the forward can find the target against Aberdeen it will increase his chances of be recalled to the national squad ahead of the Euro 2020 play-off final against Serbia in Belgrade on Thursday week. Representing his country in that fixture, though, hasn’t entered his head.

“To be honest, the Scotland game is the furthest thing from my mind right now,” he said. “I want to be back in Celtic’s starting XI before I start thinking about pulling on a dark blue jersey.

“I want to be fit, I want to be in the goals. If I get selected for it, then brilliant. If not, then the boys will get my best wishes for the game and hopefully they can go on and do the country proud and get us to the Euros.

“But first and foremost, my club football is priority and I want to be training well and making sure I’m playing well here.”