Leigh Griffiths is anticipating the warmest of welcomes when he runs out at Tannadice tomorrow – but the Hibs striker knows the Dundee United fans won’t be wishing him a Merry Christmas.
As a former player with Tayside rivals Dundee, the Scotland Under-21 star realises he’s likely to be singled out for special attention. And the fact he reacted to abuse from Rangers supporters – making an offensive gesture in his last game which earned him a one-match ban – will, he believes, only tempt the home support to goad him all the more.
But today Griffiths insisted he has learned his lesson, his action at Easter Road a fortnight ago incurring the wrath of new boss Pat Fenlon as well as that of the SFA’s compliance officer Vincent Lunny.
He said: “It can be difficult when you are getting all sorts of abuse from the opposition fans but you must not react. Look at the top players in England, they get it from 30,000, 40,000 or 50,000 every week and they just ignore it.
“What happened against Rangers was a heat-of-the- moment thing, stupidity on my part also came into it but you have to learn from your mistakes. I’ve served my ban, I’m putting it behind me and concentrating on tomorrow.” A long-awaited victory would certainly make it a Merry Christmas for Fenlon, his players, their supporters and also, according to Griffiths, add to the festive spirit for Dundee fans.
He said: “As a former Dundee player I know I won’t be getting the best of receptions from the United supporters. I’ve never played at Tannadice before but this was one of the first fixtures I looked for when I knew I’d be coming to Hibs on loan.
“They’ll undoubtedly be looking to give me a bit of stick but I’ve just got to put it out of my mind and concentrate on putting in a good performance – if picked – and getting the three points.
“With the game being on Christmas Eve a win would certainly send the Hibs fans back down the road very happy and, I’m sure, put a few smiles on the faces of Dundee supporters at the same time.”
Griffiths’ enforced absence resulted in him watching his team-mates in action against Aberdeen at home on television and he was as disappointed as any of those who played not only at the defeat but the manner in which Hibs lost, referee Craig Thomson awarding a highly-controversial penalty, converted by Dons striker Scott Vernon which was enough to separate the sides.
Peter Pawlett, the Aberdeen youngster who took a tumble under Ivan Sproule’s challenge, has now been hit with a two-match ban for diving, a punishment which only helped rub salt into the Hibees’ wounds.
The fact Pawlett was sent off minutes later for a lunge at Lewis Stevenson was of little comfort to Fenlon’s players, the vast majority of whom agreed their opponent had been the victim of an over-harsh decision.
Griffiths agreed, saying: “I didn’t think it was a penalty or a sending off. Apart from the penalty, there was nothing in the game and, had it not been given, I think the boys could have got at least a point from it.”
Such was Hibs’ performance Griffiths revealed he could have no complaints if he starts tomorrow’s match from the bench. He said: “I thought the boys gave a good account of themselves last weekend. The lads who came in, Martin Scott and Danny Galbraith, did very well. Danny was very positive and ‘Jimmy’ was up there supporting Garry O’Connor.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if the gaffer went with the same team tomorrow. If that’s the case then I’ll have to sit on the bench, bide my time and hope to get the chance to come on to try to nick a goal or two.”
Scoring has become something of a problem for Hibs in recent weeks, just two goals claimed in six matches, striker Akpo Sodje becoming the latest sinner as he passed up a great chance for a late equaliser in Aberdeen last week.
But Griffiths, who was guilty of missing a good opportunity to open the scoring against Rangers a fortnight ago, insisted the goals will start to flow again.
He said: “Good players all over the world go through a barren spell from time-to-time. I was reading that Wayne Rooney hadn’t scored in nine Premier League matches for Manchester United until he did so against Wolves, now he’s got four in his last three games.
“Garry, Akpo and myself are not enjoying much luck at the moment but I am sure that once one goes in they’ll start flying in just as I am certain all we need is one win to turn our season round.”
Fenlon may still be waiting for his first point since succeeding Colin Calderwood as Hibs boss, but in the short period he’s been in charge it’s become clear the Easter Road side have become harder to beat – although that’s little consolation in the wake of those defeats by Rangers and the Dons.
Griffiths said: “The gaffer has come in and set his stall out defensively. Graham Stack was saying the other day that in our last three matches – including the 45 minutes of the abandoned game at Motherwell – he’s only had four shots to deal with and two of them have been penalties.
“We’ve definitely tightened up but now it is a case of making sure we take our chances, do that and we’ll soon start winning, hopefully tomorrow.”
Griffiths, though, acknowledged Fenlon’s side will be in for a tough afternoon against Peter Houston’s young team, but insisted the way in which Hibs battled back to secure a 3-3 draw with United at Easter Road earlier in the season gives cause for optimism.
After O’Connor had struck first, Hibs went 3-1 down, with United captain Jon Daly claiming a double either side of a Danny Swanson effort before a Scott Robertson own goal and what proved to be Junior Agogo’s only Hibs goal forced a draw.
Griffiths recalled: “I thought we actually might have gone on to sneak a 4-3 win that night but coming back from two goals behind shows the character we have in the dresssing-room.
“Tannadice is always a tough place to go but we know what to expect and hopefully we can all enjoy our Christmas.”