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Celtic 5 Inverness CT 0: Celebration day as Griffiths hat-trick marks Fergus McCann anniversary

THEY came to pay tribute to Fergus McCann on the 20th anniversary of his takeover, but left singing the praises of another man who hadn't previously been universally popular here either.

Leigh Griffiths fires the ball past Inverness keeper Dean Brill to give Celtic an early lead Photograph: SNS
Leigh Griffiths fires the ball past Inverness keeper Dean Brill to give Celtic an early lead Photograph: SNS

Leigh Griffiths, whose £800,000 signing from Wolves left some Parkhead supporters rather nonplussed, left Celtic Park with the match ball after the first hat-trick of his fledgling Celtic career. He also celebrated the added bonus of a call-up for Scotland's friendly with Poland in Warsaw in midweek, with Norwich City's Robert Snodgrass likely to be excused the trip to rest an ongoing muscle problem.

While Charlie Mulgrew and Kris Commons also chipped in, so dominant were Celtic against Inverness yesterday that Griffiths might even have had a second hat-trick.

"I am buzzing to get my first hat-trick here and it is a bonus to get the call-up," said Griffiths, who was watched yesterday by Gordon Strachan and who has now scored four goals in four starts. "I think he [Strachan] made comments about me not being in it because I wasn't playing for Wolves in the last month-and-a-half or so and he wanted to give me time to settle in, but I have done that kind of quickly. From day one some Celtic fans didn't really want me here, but I am trying to prove everybody wrong by scoring as many goals as I can."

Lennon, who also had praise for the performance of Nir Biton in midfield, said the 23-year-old was showing glimpses of the player he could become. "I am delighted for him and he could have had a lot more over the course of the game," said Lennon. "His first goal pleased me the most, because we have been crying out for a penalty box striker and that was a great ball and a great finish. We saw a glimpse of what's ahead of us."

After a short ceremony to mark McCann's contribution which saw former chairman Brian Quinn don his trademark bunnet, Virgil van Dijk took his place in the starting line-up, courtesy of the pending appeal for his dismissal at Pittodrie in midweek.

This meant the only change was James Forrest inheriting Kris Commons' role behind the striker, presumably on form grounds. Inverness had drawn here earlier in the season, in addition to a famous win last season, but this was John Hughes' first return to his old stomping ground as manager. It didn't prove to be a happy one.Inverness could yet record a cup double this season, but this one started getting away from them early on. Anthony Stokes sailed an early chip narrowly wide, and within 12 minutes Celtic were a goal to the good. Emilio Izaguirre curled over a sweet cross and Griffiths defied those who claim he doesn't score enough poachers' goals with a fine run and right-foot finish which went in off the bar.

Griffiths can also deliver a wicked corner, even if some might prefer he gets on the end of them. But there was a nice symmetry when his near-post kick was cleverly redirected into the top corner by the backheel of Charlie Mulgrew, another set-piece specialist.

Richie Foran might have given his side a foothold had he not blazed over after nice work from Graeme Shinnie, but the flow of the match continued in the other direction. Before half- time, Stokes had a shot saved by Dean Brill, and Mulgrew almost rounded off a fine team move.

Griffiths ran onto a fine Biton pass shortly after the restart only to chip wide, but fans didn't have long to wait for his next goal. David Raven dallied too long on the ball, allowing him to nip in and lash in an instant left foot drive which flew into the top corner off a post.

Perhaps desperate to illustrate their burgeoning partnership, Griffiths and Stokes seemed a little overly unselfish prior to Griffiths lashing another effort over the bar, before Commons came off the bench to show how it should be done, turning into space before sending in an instant right-foot shot from 30 yards which a sheepish Brill spilled into his net. One more chance came and went before that elusive hat-trick goal duly arrived, Griffiths rolling in effortlessly, following a Josh Meekings error and a Commons pass. Bigger battles await for Inverness. "This result isn't going to define our season," said Hughes. "It's the next month that will define our season, we have Dundee United next week in a Scottish Cup quarter-final then a final to look forward to."

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