THE suspension of football back in March due to the coronavirus outbreak came at the worst possible time for Leigh Griffiths. The Celtic striker was, after a turbulent year that had seen him sidelined with personal issues and then injury, finally getting back to his old self. He scored eight times in 13 appearances in 2020 and netted a hat-trick in the final game before shutdown.

Yet, Neil Lennon was still encouraged by Griffiths’ return to form before lockdown was brought in and is confident the prolific marksman will be able to pick up exactly where he left off when competitive action resumes, hopefully with the start of the Premiership in August, later this year.

He believes the 29-year-old has put his well-publicised off-field problems behind him, will be a key figure in his team’s push for 10-In-A-Row in the new campaign and has another four seasons at the very highest level ahead of him.

“Leigh has been good,” he said. “On the Monday it was announced we had won the league he was straight on to me, saying he can’t wait to be back next season.

“He’s in a good place mentally and physically and he’s been doing all his work and extra with the fitness coach. The season was curtailed when he was coming into form, but he should hold onto that and use it as motivation.

“He knows he has come back and can compete at the highest level and score goals and make a difference for us and that was a real shot in the arm for him.

“The second half of the season was very good. There were a few games he could have done better, but we were okay with that and you can’t argue with his talent and he’s got that knack of scoring goals which is a natural talent.

“We were patient with him and you could see the more the season went on the stronger and more confident he was getting so while it’s been a blow to him it hasn’t been a terminal blow for him or anyone else for that matter.”

Lennon added: “Hopefully we can get him back in June and get him up to speed and he’ll be an asset for us going forward - you can’t replace the goals he scores which is such a vital asset for us.

“Leigh’s got great football intelligence as well. His movement off the ball was good and he looked like he was really enjoying his football again before it was curtailed, but there’s more to come from him. He’s at his his peak now and he’s got three or four years at the highest level still to come.”

Having Lennon, who has been open about his struggles with depression in the past, as his manager was doubtless a huge help to Griffiths as he made his comeback. The Northern Irishman, who was a big personality on the park as a player as well as off it, knows only too well how mental health issues can affect anyone regardless of how confident they appear outwardly.

The admission by Craig Bellamy, the former Wales striker who he played with for half a season at Celtic back in 2005, that he has been receiving treatment for depression for the last three years underlined to him that everyone is vulnerable.

“I was really impressed with Craig Bellamy’s interview which was quite open and I could relate a lot to it,” he said. “Craig was very gregarious, fierce competitor and a brilliant player. I thought he was really honest and it would have been an inspirational message to a lot of people in the football community and public in general.

“It affects many people in many different ways. Personally, I’m feeling good. I’ve been trying to stick to a daily routine and keep myself occupied and keep in touch with my main staff - the likes of Nick Hammond, John Kennedy and the players abroad.

“We’re always on top of things in terms of the mental approach as well as physical. They have the week set out by the fitness coach John Currie and Jack Nayler (Head of Sports Science) is keeping on top of things in terms of making sure they finish the programme so I’m delighted with the work going on despite the obstacles. They seem in a good place.”