Griffiths hat-trick sends Celtic 16 points clear

Glasgow (AFP) –


Leigh Griffiths made his case for inclusion in Scotland's quest to qualify for Euro 2020 later this month with a first hat-trick in four years as Celtic thrashed St Mirren 5-0 on Saturday.

Griffiths led the way as the Scottish champions opened up a commanding 16-point lead over Rangers, who have two games in hand, at the top of the table.

The 29-year-old missed most of last season due to mental health troubles but has hit top form since the winter break.

Griffiths struck twice with two composed finishes to end the game as a contest before half-time.

Odsonne Edouard then netted his 28th goal of the campaign despite being surrounded by St Mirren defenders inside the area as Celtic cut loose after the break.

Griffiths' third came 16 minutes from time when he drilled a shot in from just outside the box for his first hat-trick since January 2016, in an 8-1 win over Hamilton.

Callum McGregor added a fifth from the penalty spot late on as Celtic threw down the gauntlet to Rangers ahead of the Old Firm derby next weekend.

"I'm delighted for Leigh Griffiths and Odsonne Edouard is also in the goals," said Celtic boss Neil Lennon.

"Leigh has been working hard since the beginning of the year. I'm just pleased for him personally."

Motherwell remain the best of the rest behind the two Glasgow giants but saw their lead in third cut to one point after blowing a lead to draw 1-1 at bottom-of-the-table Hearts.

Chris Long opened the scoring for the visitors at Tynecastle, but Connor Washington's equaliser early in the second half keeps Daniel Stendel's men just three points behind St Mirren.

Aberdeen closed in on third place as the Dons came from behind to beat 10-man Hibernian.

Steven Whittaker's dismissal began the Aberdeen revival before an own goal by Adam Jackson, and efforts from Andrew Considine and Curtis Main secured a vital three points.

Hibs' place in the top six is now under threat from St Johnstone, who were 1-0 victors over Livingston thanks to Callum Hendry's late winner.

Hamilton backed up their spectacular 1-0 win at Rangers in midweek with another victory by the solitary goal as Marios Ogkmpoe's late penalty earned a 1-0 win over Kilmarnock to move the Accies up to 10th.