Stopping “best in country” Griffiths key if Hamilton are to shock Celtic again, says Devlin

Graeme McGarry / Monday 18 January 2016 / Sport

With the greatest of respect to Annan’s Rabin Omar, it is highly improbable that he will be among the contenders when the SPFL player of the year gong is being awarded at this year's glitzy end of season bash.

He did however manage to give Hamilton the run-around during their famous Scottish Cup win last week – helping himself to two goals in the 4-1 victory – so you might think that the prospect of facing a bona fide contender for the mantle of best player in the country would have Hamilton’s defenders quivering in their boots.

Not a bit of it. Centre-half Michael Devlin, who made his long-awaited return in the Annan debacle after seven months out with a cruciate ligament injury, is confident that Martin Canning’s side are ready to shut out red-hot Leigh Griffiths at Celtic Park tonight.

He said: “Keeping Leigh Griffiths quiet will be the main priority. We just need to go there, try and be professional and do our best to achieve that.

“He’s doing really well just now, he’s probably the best player in Scotland. He’s on fire. However, it’s another game and as a defence, individually and collectively, we’ve got a job to do.

“I relish the challenge. When you’re young you dream about going up against the best players and biggest teams at the biggest venues. At the moment, as a defender, I think Leigh Griffiths is the best striker in the country.

“I’ve played against Kris Boyd, I’ve played against Adam Rooney, I’ve played against every team in the league. I also played against Kenny Miller when I was younger, so I’ve got decent enough experience which will hopefully help me. I look forward to it.”

Whilst acknowledging the quality that Celtic possess in the attacking department, Devlin concedes that he would rather face a striker who won’t run in behind the defence, rather than attempt to curtail the livewire movement of Griffiths.

And despite noticing that Griffiths has been partaking in more sledging on the field recently than the kids in the Kelvingrove Park over the last few days, he says his hands will be full enough trying to deal with the sharpness of his movement tonight, rather than his tongue.

“I’ve played against him three times and he’s not really done that,” he said.

“But every Celtic game that’s been on recently I’ve been watching to make sure I’ve got a good insight about them.

“He seems to be having a wee pop during the games. Some players do that, and we’ve probably got the biggest wind up merchant in Darian MacKinnon. He likes to get in people’s heads and ears during a game. That’s part and parcel of football.

“I noticed he had a few wee nibbles in the Stranraer game, but that probably sums him up as a character. He’ll do anything he has to do to succeed and at the moment it’s working for him, so why would he change?

“[His best attribute] is probably his movement. He’s very sharp and he plays off your shoulder all the time, so that’s probably the hardest thing to deal with as a defender.

“You’re more comfortable with someone playing in front of you as opposed to a striker constantly trying to run off your shoulder. He also uses the ball very early, particularly with shots. So we’re well aware, we’ve done our homework and we’ll try our best to keep him quiet.”

During the long, lonely hours of toil as he worked his way back towards fitness, it was images of victorious nights at venues like Celtic Park – as he enjoyed with Hamilton in October 2014 – that Devlin envisaged as the reward, rather than humiliating defeats at Galabank as was the sad reality.

The experience has made him even more determined to make the most of the opportunity to put things right this evening.

He said: “The week building up to it I was really excited and imagining what might happen in the game. Unfortunately it didn’t materialise that way for myself or the team.

“I think that was time for a few boys to go home, have a good look at ourselves and think about what we were giving the team and the manager.

“We played Celtic and beat them last year which was the high point of my career, but that day last week – and if anyone was in any doubt at all it was driven home – it just wasn’t good enough.

“We tried to put that right on Saturday by getting a clean sheet and getting a positive result, and we’ll try to do the same against Celtic.” is the online edition of Scotland's favourite newspapers, that brings you your Daily news. Every day we bring you the best in Scottish news, sport, entertainment and opinion, including breaking news, picture galleries, videos and live blogs.

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