When Leigh Griffiths poked home against St Johnstone in Celtic’s final away game of the season he became just the 8th man in the Bhoys’ 128 year history to score 40 goals in a single season. Henrik Larsson, Bobby Lennox, Jimmy McGrory – all legendary names who had previous achieved it.
At the start of season 2015/16, nobody would have predicted he’d write himself into Celtic’s history alongside those famous heroes. The season prior had been tumultuous with the striker spending long periods on the bench under Ronny Deila. He started 2015 linked with a move away from Celtic Park and ended the ensuing campaign as the club’s most vital player in their quest for five-in-a-row.
How did that happen? To understand that then we need to take a look at the goals and the moments that made him Celtic and Scotland’s player of the year.
29th August 2015 – Celtic vs St Johnstone
Despite Griffiths having already scored seven goals in eleven games by this point in the season, Celtic were a club in an unhappy place. Just four days prior to this they had been defeated by Malmo, meaning they had missed out on Champions League football for the second season in a row.
When Dedryck Boyata scored an own goal and made it 1-0 to St Johnstone at Celtic Park you could feel the hope withdrawing from the stands that this was going to be any kind of season for the Hoops.
Just seven minutes later Griffiths gave everyone the first sign that he was going to be the man that they could rely on to deliver regardless of team form and performance. It sparked a comeback that would see the Hoops go to the top of the table above Aberdeen and Hearts.
20th September 2015 – Celtic vs Dundee
Again coming off the back of a disappointment defeat, this time away to title challengers Aberdeen, there were plenty of question marks around Ronny Deila’s Celtic. This win over Dundee was the Bhoys’ first truly convincing win of the season and Griffiths’ goal was a vital component, giving his side a vital two-goal cushion with which they could go on to express themselves and put any bad thoughts behind them.
It also put his tally for the season into double figures, the first landmark on the road to many more over the coming months.
28th October 2015 – Hearts vs Celtic
Griffiths’ 14th goal of the season was probably his greatest. Receiving the ball 30 yards from goal, he jinked past one Hearts defender, nutmegged another before curling past a helpless Neil Alexander to put Celtic 1-0 up in a pulsating cup tie away from home.
A lifelong Hibs fan, you sensed that this was a Leigh Griffiths having the time of his life, full of confidence and swagger and perhaps realising within himself that he had the ability to do something that is very rarely done in Celtic colours.
31st October 2015 – Celtic vs Aberdeen
Just three days after the victory over Hearts Leigh Griffiths rattled home his 15th and 16th goals of the season, in the process mercilessly stomping on an Aberdeen side who with a victory could have moved within 1 point of the champions.
His soaring header just before half-time was the first time anybody used Griffiths’ name in the same sentence as Henrik Larsson, who in decades past scored goals in a remarkably similar manner. It was a comparison that proved to be more on the money than anybody would have thought at the time.
2nd January 2016 – Celtic vs Partick Thistle
Celtic hadn’t won at home in four games, they were out of the Europa League, Griffiths had missed the entirety of December through injury, Aberdeen were breathing down their necks.
It’s fair to say the pressure on the Bhoys going into 2016 was absolutely massive. Under fire from all corners, pundits, fans and ex-players, the game against Partick Thistle wasn’t going much better.
Griffiths came on at half time but a Nir Bitton red card in the 68th minute put a massive dent in hopes of securing all 3 points. His injury time winner, although scrappy and lucky, was his most important of the season and his 20th of the campaign. He went on to score 7 goals over the next 3 games and the Bhoys finally began to look like champions.
15th January 2016 – Dundee United vs Celtic
On 15th January Leigh Griffiths made Celtic history with a brace away to Dundee United. He became the the quickest Celtic player to hit 50 goals in the modern era, reaching the landmark in just 60 starts for the Hoops. It broke a longstanding record set by Charlie Nicholas.
After this night everybody began looking ahead to see what other landmarks he could hit. It was slowly dawning on supporters that they were witnessing a once in a generation performer for their team.
9th April 2016 – Motherwell vs Celtic
Having scored 11 goals between the Dundee United game and this one, it was clear Griffiths was going to win a raft of Player of the Year awards.
However he’d just gone 3 games without a goal for the first time in his Celtic career and this tricky trip to Fir Park presented the striker with a challenge. His two goals, numbers 36 and 37, propelled the Hoops 8 points clear of Aberdeen with just 5 games remaining.
It was obvious from this point on that Celtic were winning five-in-a-row.
11th May 2016 – St Johnstone vs Celtic
Number 40, the goal that ensures Leigh Griffiths will forever be an icon with the green and white faithful.
If he can reach the highs of this season under Brendan Rodgers then he’ll become the first player for over a decade to score 100 goals in Celtic colours and will be one of the quickest in history to do it.
We might not see a 40 goal season in Scotland’s top flight for another generation but if anyone currently plying his trade in the division can do it, it is this man.