Former Scotland captain Barry Ferguson has backed Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths as he continues to be snubbed both at club and international level.
Griffiths has been back available for several weeks now yet continues to sit on the bench at Parkhead. The former Hibs man has scored in games against St Johnstone, Aberdeen and Sparta Prague in recent weeks. However, he’s only started one game for the Hoops all season.
Being overlooked for selection has followed him into the Scotland squad too. Griffiths has been third-choice behind both Lyndon Dykes and Oli McBurnie in Steve Clarke’s squad. Griff had to settle for cameo appearances against both Serbia and Slovakia, and will likely have to settle for the same against Israel today too.
But he has a big fan in BBC Sportsound pundit Ferguson, who was quick to big up the traits the Celtic striker provides.
Speaking on Go Radio’s Football Show, the ex-Rangers midfielder said: “You see when he (Griffiths) came on, he had two chances, two attempts at goal, and he made the goalkeeper work. The first one, he never caught right, but that one right at the death, seeing it slowed down on TV, his concentration on the ball, on another day, that goes in the back of the net.
“I like him. I just think that he’s the most natural goalscorer we’ve got available for Scotland. It must be the case (that he’s not fully fit), and Neil Lennon’s doing the same [not starting him]. He’s come in for Scotland, I don’t think he was ever going to play last Thursday, I think Clarke was always going to go with Dykes up top.
“I was interested to see if he was going to start against Slovakia – he didn’t. Steve Clarke must have the same opinion as Neil Lennon. He’s a goalscorer, he only needs one chance. He’s good in the air, he can handle the ball, he can take a bang. He’s physically strong, so I wouldn’t see it as a problem for Leigh Griffiths playing up there if Lyndon Dykes wasn’t available.”
Is there a fitness problem holding him back?
It’s interesting to note how overlooked Griffiths has been in recent months despite the positive impact he’s been making from the bench.
The big question we’ve all been asking is “why?”. It’s difficult to make any sense of why Griffiths would continuously be left out considering he’s so often a difference-maker when brought on.
His performance against Slovakia on Sunday was another promising one, but it was intriguing to see how often Griffiths was needing to cough or take a deep breath on the pitch. This was most notable when he was taking some of Scotland’s set-pieces late on.
Now it could’ve been anything. It could simply have been a cold. But it’s also a symptom of a lack of fitness too. Yet even so there was no sign that Griffiths was slowing up at any point during his late 25-minute cameo. He was still alert all throughout his appearance and caused the Slovakian defence some major problems with his movement.
But a lack of fitness is the only reason you could justify playing the likes of Oli McBurnie ahead of him, for example. Griffiths is twice the player the Sheffield Utd man is, and it’s consistently evident when you see them both on the pitch at the same time.
However, both Lennon and Clarke continue to keep Griffiths on the sidelines for the most part. It’s getting to the stage now where you have to wonder why.