Scotland assistant Mark McGhee believes Leigh Griffiths could play a key role in Saturday’s European Championship qualifier against Republic of Ireland.
The Edinburgh-born forward is likely to start on the bench but his current rich form could be a useful asset late in the game, writes BARRY ANDERSON.
Griffiths scored 15 goals in 21 games for Celtic in the second half of the domestic season, which earned him a recall from national coach Gordon Strachan. He and McGhee watched the striker closely in training last week before he played as a substitute in Friday’s friendly win over Qatar.
McGhee believes Griffiths is a more improved player than when he was in the Scotland squad last year. Playing as a lone forward at Celtic has forced him to take more responsibility and he may now feature against Ireland.
“We have seen a player in training who looks better, looks fitter and looks sharper,” McGhee revealed. “Every time Leigh has come here he’s usually missed a couple of days because he’s been ill. Well, he’s trained every day and has looked hungry.
“He played a bit the other night and looked lively, so I think he’s done himself no harm what so ever in terms of the way he has put himself in the manager’s eyes on this training camp. He definitely shows to be an improved player.
“We’ve always found Leigh easy and enjoyable to deal with. When he trains he does it well, the problem has been that he’s missed days that has set him back. This time he has trained the same as everyone else and he has been just as good. How he’s living away from here I don’t know, but it certainly shows he’s living well when I see him.”
Having been a striker in his playing days, McGhee pays particular attention to the forwards in the Scotland squad. He revealed that his discussions with Griffiths have been especially productive.
“I go to him, it’s my job. I speak to the players about things like that so I know what they are thinking and what they believe are the right things to do. We don’t want to tell them to do something that may be contradictory to what they are used to. If we do, then there has to be an explanation.
“I think putting him up as a lone striker has given him a responsibility and he’s talked to me about one or two things that he’s been asked to do. They are good things. If he’s going to get goals, you can tell what he has been told is good information and the people around him know what they are doing. They are definitely helping.”
McGhee added that Griffiths’s energy could be important for Scotland if he is asked to perform a cameo in Dublin. “There’s no doubt about it. I believe we will need the 14 players to win this game, whether to see it out or to get that goal. Leigh Griffiths in his present form can be valuable in those circumstances.”