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Celtic 5 Inverness 0: Small package possessed of a burgeoning potential

THE goals, the cheers and the match ball all formed the spoils of victory for the wee man with the blond hair.

Celtic's Leigh Griffiths scores his second goal of the game after the Inverness Caledonian Thistle defenders give him too much time. Pictures: SNS
Celtic's Leigh Griffiths scores his second goal of the game after the Inverness Caledonian Thistle defenders give him too much time. Pictures: SNS

The thoughts of the wee man with the red hair in the stands will not immediately grab the attention over the exploits of Leigh Griffiths but Gordon Strachan saw much before him at Celtic Park on Saturday to stir the grey matter under his russet thatch.

It was, irrefutably, Griffiths' day. When he walked off the park with the match ball up his shirt one journalist remarked: "He has even managed to get himself pregnant." Is there no end to his talents? Yes is the short answer.

Strachan may have been the sort of footballer who entranced the game's romantics but as a manager he is coldly pragmatic, deeply practical.

Griffiths is at times spectacular, he will score goals regularly for Celtic and prove to be an outstanding investment. The fans cheered as he headed towards the midwife in the dressing room but Strachan and Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, will know the 23-year-old striker has to be improved.

Supporters cheered and the reporters noted the three goals. Strachan and Lennon will have observed the misses, two of them comfortably in the category of sitters.

This is not to denigrate a young player who showed bravery, pace, power of shot and intelligence of movement. It is to gauge how he might be employed by Strachan in the short term and improved by Lennon over time.

Scott Brown, the Celtic captain, was effusive about his new team-mate, who he drives through from the east to training. Oh, to have a recording device in that car. He will now take Griffiths to Erskine and the Scotland training camp for this week's friendly against Poland after the striker was called up on Saturday.

"He will bring goals," he said of his mate's packing. "He also creates chances for other people. He runs down balls that no-one else thinks he is going to get and somehow he gets them. He is sharp, fit and really strong."

He also invoked the ghost of Gary Hooper, saying that Griffiths has the former Celtic striker's attributes. Griffiths, though, is not yet as astute in hold-up play but this should come with the level of coaching he will receive at Lennoxtown as he has no obvious technical deficit.

"Maybe not all of the fans were sure about him when he signed for Celtic, but everyone in the dressing room was sure of Leigh when he arrived and so was the manager," said Brown.

Strachan will need more convincing with regards to a starting position as a forward who can hold the ball is essential to his game plan. Griffiths, though, offers potential and a record of always making the step-up in grade.

The Scotland manager had sights of more likely contributors to his plans, at least in the short term. Brown and Charlie Mulgrew largely strolled through the match, though the latter became embroiled in a series of spats with Marley Watkins. There was little else to discomfit the internationalist midfield players.

Increasingly, Brown and Mulgrew look like certain starters for Strachan and both, at 28 and 27 respectively, are improving. The most pleasing sight for the Scotland manager may just have been James Forrest.

At 22, some have absurdly written him off as a potential unfulfilled. Forrest, however, has the capability of being an influential player for club and country. He is simply a game breaker in that his pace and finishing can be unanswerable. On Saturday, he also reprised a role of moving inside to provide an extra man to overwhelm Inverness Caledonian Thistle while creating space for the buccaneering Adam Matthews.

In the tight matches at club and international level - and the summer and early autumn will be packed with them because of Champions League and Euro 2016 qualifiers - Forrest may be the forward to produce the spectacular.

If Celtic offered both promise and purpose on Saturday, Inverness were dreadfully disappointing.

The Highlanders were careless in defence, feckless in front of goal and outplayed all over the pitch. They return to Celtic Park on March 16 for the League Cup final but any scouting report for their opponents Aberdeen must surely declare the caveat that Inverness were so bad that improvement is not only possible but inevitable.

"We will just forget about this one. It's done, it's gone," said Ross Draper, the Inverness midfielder. "The League Cup final isn't in the back of our minds - not at all. It's not been spoken about in the changing room. So there's no problems with that. We are confident it will be a different outcome when we come back for the final."

He admitted his side had been undone by a forward in form but he was not too surprised by the identity of the hat trick scorer.

"I'm a Wolves fan and I know what Leigh Griffiths is all about. All my mates back home raved about him. They wanted him to stay down there. To be fair, I wish he had stayed there," he said.

"He's just got it. Celtic are no mugs, they know who they are signing. Leigh is proven at this level. He will go on to score many more goals for Celtic."

This statement may lack originality but not conviction or truth.

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