How Leigh Griffiths and Odsonne Edouard are making life easier for Celtic boss Neil Lennon
Odsonne Edouard and Leigh Griffiths are back in tandem not a moment too soon considering a crucial trip to Ibrox is imminent. Pairing these two strikers together did not seem the most complicated solution to Celtic’s problems. However, it has taken the team a while to properly benefit from the possibilities that abound when two such obvious goal threats are working together for the greater good.
This potent front pairing has not been seen often enough so far this season. Both have suffered illness and injury while Griffiths’ problems in getting fit have been well documented. But they now appear to be very much in the groove. It can only be good news for Celtic.
Some comment has been made about Edouard’s selfishness, but he set up a goal for Griffiths, Celtic’s second, after 54 minutes, having a few minutes earlier opened the scoring from the spot. Edouard ignored Hamilton complaints about the award – there was some doubt whether it was given for handball or a late challenge by Aaron Martin on the Frenchman – to beat Kyle Gourlay with a more conventional penalty than against Hearts in the Scottish Cup final six days earlier. It would have been a brave striker to try that trick again on another high-stakes occasion.
There was swirling wind and sweeping sleet. Lennon wisely dressed up like a polar explorer. The floodlights were on long before kick-off. All that and an artificial pitch. This was exactly the sort of scene where a potentially fatal mishap might well occur in terms of Celtic’s hopes of securing a tenth successive championship triumph. Especially as they were already operating under increased pressure following news that Rangers had negotiated their own troublesome assignment against Hibernian earlier in the afternoon.
Vitality of youth
This was a test of their mettle against a Hamilton Accies side who seem to have swapped youth for a bit more brawn of late. Lennon, by contrast, has noted Celtic’s own relative youth, which he says is often overlooked, including by him. He has a point.
Edouard, for example, is still only 22-year-old. His penalty shortly after half time eased Celtic fears that this might be where things would get a whole lot trickier for them. As it stands, their situation – still 16 points behind Rangers, with three games in hand – is already awkward enough.
But this was further evidence of a mid-season revival under a rejuvenated manager in Lennon. Further goals from Griffiths and David Turnbull, who tapped home after Edouard’s header rebounded off the post, augmented an important win against a Hamilton side already reeling from the news they had lost three points earlier in the day. St Mirren’s decision to appeal the 3-0 defeat imposed on them due to an alleged Covid-breach before their cancelled game against Brian Rice’s side means Hamilton remain perilously placed just a point above bottom club Ross County.
Turnbull was the recipient of a bearhug from Lennon when he came off for Mikey Johnston with 13 minutes left. Everything seems a lot rosier in the Celtic garden all of a sudden. Fit again Scott Brown was not even required to come off the bench. With the 22-year-old Ismaila Soro deputising so well for Brown, it will be another big decision whether to play the skipper ahead of him at Ibrox on Saturday.
Lennon was positively purring afterwards. The manager was a constant source of encouragement on the sidelines. It seemed like good management from someone whose methods have been questioned recently.
Still, at half-time, and as much as Celtic were controlling things, it looked distinctly possible that the recent upturn in fortunes might prove only a mini-honeymoon. Despite Lennon retaining faith in the Edouard-Griffiths forward line following the midweek win over Ross County, frustration abounded. Griffiths hit a post with another header following Jeremie’s Frimpong cross.
This was the striker’s second successive league start and something of a red-letter moment since it seemed to confirm that the problems of the summer, and thereafter, are over. He seems to feel confident that is the case.
Griff the goalscoring phenomenon
“I’m feeling good,” Griffiths said afterwards. “The more I get on the pitch, the fitter I’m going to become. Hopefully I can take that into Wednesday (v Dundee United) now. The gaffer knows what I can do, it’s just about trying to get that consistency going again, especially the linking up with Odsonne. You saw how good it was at the back end of last season and hopefully we can try to rediscover that now.
“We’ve been playing well and not getting the rub of the green at times, but the performances are coming together now. We look more assured and hopefully we can take that forward.”
The black away strip certainly does not make Griffiths look any less trim. He does remain a goalscoring phenomenon, however. Along with the header, he might have scored with a searing drive from just outside the box. Hamilton goalkeeper Gourlay was a match for him on that occasion, tipping his effort over the bar. His eventual goal came after his left-foot shot from 18 yards, following Edouard’s cute lay-off, was too strong for Gourlay to hold.
“Well done Griff, unlucky Griff, good movement Griff!” Lennon’s positive shouts from the sidelines was a feature of this game. Everyone was applauded. Few were given a dressing down. Only once, when Ryan Christie shot weakly past, did the manager seem in any way agitated with one of his players, but, even then, he was hardly scathing in his criticism: “You need to get those on target Ryan!” he urged. Celtic appear to be responding to this approach.
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