Griffiths the hat-trick hero as Celtic move eight clear
Celtic 4 Partick Thistle 1
Published 15/04/2015 | 22:07
Substitute Leigh Griffiths helped himself to a quickfire second-half hat-trick as Celtic came from behind to beat Kilmarnock 4-1 at Parkhead and go eight points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership.
Following a dull first 45 minutes in which the visitors barely crossed the halfway line, Killie defender Darryl Westlake stunned the Hoops support when he fired the Ayrshire men ahead in the 50th minute with a deflected drive.
Midfielder Kris Commons levelled for the chastened home side eight minutes later and Griffiths immediately replaced James Forrest before netting three goals in a remarkable 19-minute spell to increase the advantage over Aberdeen with six games left.
Griffith was one of four changes made by manager Ronny Deila but on this showing he is almost certain to start in Sunday's William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final against Inverness at Hampden Park.
Right-back Adam Matthews, winger Forrest, Commons and striker John Guidetti came in for Efe Ambrose, Stuart Armstrong, Gary Mackay-Steven and Griffiths.
Killie showed two changes with midfielder Paul Cairney and striker Lee Miller in for Chris Johnston and Alexei Eremenko, who were named among the substitutes.
The Ayrshire side were happy to sit back in their 4-5-1 formation, inviting Celtic to break them down and consequently it made for an uninspiring first half.
The home side went, left, right and through the middle at various times and at various speeds but found a wall of orange shirts in their way,
When Emilio Izaguirre did get through, on the half-hour mark, he cut the ball back for skipper Scott Brown - but his unconvincing shot from 14 yards flew high over the bar.
Moments later, following a searching Stefan Johansen free-kick from the left flank headed back across goal by midfielder Nir Bitton, Hoops defender Jason Denayer failed to make a decent connection with his head from close range.
In the 35th minute Celtic defender Virgil van Dijk headed a Commons corner past the far post from a similar distance.
Celtic went on the attack from the start of the second half but the visitors took a shock lead with their first real effort on goal.
In a rare Killie foray up the park, Westlake took advantage of Celtic turning off for a moment, firing in a drive which came off a Hoops body before nestling low behind the hitherto unemployed Craig Gordon.
The atmosphere changed.
The Parkhead side laid siege to the Killie goal and in the 58th minute Commons fired in the from the edge of the box to ease any Hoops nerves.
Griffiths immediately replaced Forrest and in the 66th minute Commons set him up with a fine cross for the former Wolves striker to head in the Hoops' second.
Commons was in the mood, forcing a good save from Killie goalkeeper Craig Samson - and the visitors then had to defend a series of corners, in unconvincing fashion.
The Killie keeper was again called into action, parrying a powerful Commons drive with Johansen lashing the rebound behind.
But the Rugby Park number one had no chance in the 80th minute when Griffiths thundered in a shot from 25 yards which struck the post before hitting the net.
There was time for Gordon to remind the Celtic fans how good a keeper he is with a point-blank save from Nathan Eccleston, seconds after he replaced Cairney.
But Griffiths was not finished yet, racing through the Killie defence with five minutes remaining to slam his third and his team's fourth goal past the hapless Samson and keep Hoops' treble hopes ticking over.