THERE is an increasingly widespread belief that Leigh Griffiths has spent much of his professional career auditioning for the leading role in a television sitcom, a sort of EastBender meets The Scheme.
The Hibernian striker has been involved in so many scenes he could be forgiven for applying for membership of Equity. He has also worryingly appeared in the same sentence as the word 'alleged'. However, after late drama in Dundee last night the finger pointed at Alan Muir, the referee, who awarded a penalty for a foul committed outside the box. Johnny Russell subsequently equalised from the spot with just five minutes remaining.
If Muir was the villain for Hibs, then Griffiths was undoubtedly the hero, excelling as a lone striker and giving a performance to confound his critics as much as pleasing his manager. When Pat Fenlon described an individual's role as "exceptional" he was not referring to Mr Muir but to his striker. He restricted his comments about the referee to a philosophical "these things happen, we all make mistakes".
Ryan McGivern, the Hibs full-back who fouled Gary Mackay-Steven just outside the box, was less forgiving of the penalty award. "I knew that I was giving away a free-kick but when I saw the referee pointing to the spot I was shocked," the Northern Irishman said. "The linesman has to help the referee out. I am not sure of the ref's position but the linesman should be level with the play. I have seen the replay: it is clear I am outside the box when I have made the tackle. It is very disappointing."
The penalty gave United the chance to salvage a point from an unconvincing performance but there was nothing dubious about the performance of Griffiths. His interventions were spectacular and his play was highly creditable before he left the pitch after 69 minutes in the limelight.
Griffiths, whose removal came after he suffered a "dead leg", made the first goal and scored the second with a magnificent shot that followed a clever run and a sly confounding of John Rankin.
The Griffiths contribution to a point in Dundee last night was praiseworthy but it is his influence over a season that is truly remarkable. Hibs have amassed 36 goals in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League this season and Griffiths has scored half of them.
Those who came to Tannadice to praise Russell and Mackay-Steven, two of the rising stars of the division, were left to drool over the display of the 22-year-old Griffiths, who almost buried United before Russell, for the fifth consecutive match, scored under the reign of Jackie McNamara.
The former Partick Thistle manager has reorganised and galvanised United, apart from the collapse at Celtic Park last week, but Hibs took control of the match once the home side had faded after a bright opening. The Tannadice side were grateful to Ben Williams for their opening goal after seven minutes when the goalkeeper took a touch on a Jorge Claros pass, then clattered the ball off Rankin's back and it flew into the net.
It took Hibs 20 minutes to restore parity and it was Griffiths who was the creator with his free-kick finding James McPake, who rose above Brian McLean to glance the ball past Radoslaw Cierzniak.
The early promise of United deserted them, with Russell becoming isolated and Lewis Stevenson increasingly nullifying the threat of Mackay-Steven. With Claros influential in midfield and Griffiths baffling and bemusing United with his running and ability to find space in front of the back four, Hibs looked likely to take the spoils after McPake's equaliser.
Just before half-time, the on-loan Wolverhampton Wanderers striker grazed the bar, then fired powerfully into the side net. These served as markers. Within six minutes of the restart, Hibs broke from a corner and Griffiths, picking up the ball in his own half, cleverly eluded Rankin before shooting home brilliantly from the edge of the box.
McNamara then pushed Jon Daly, who had started at centre-back, up front and the restored striker gave United hope and a focal point in their search for an equaliser. He just missed a Rankin cross and the onrushing Michael Gardyne headed the ball off the top of the bar.
The restoration of Daly to his favourite position and the withdrawal of Griffiths, whose last contribution was a beautiful through pass to Tom Taiwo, denied a goal by a Keith Watson block, tilted the flow of the match towards United but it took a dubious penalty to give the home side a point.
McNamara bemoaned the loss of two goals to set pieces, privately fuming at how Hibs could score from a United corner, before describing Griffiths as the difference between the sides. He was brief, frank and correct.