Noel Whelan has insisted the first half of the season could have gone a lot different for Celtic if Leigh Griffiths had returned to training fit and firing.

Speaking exclusively to Football Insider, the former Aberdeen and Leeds striker has heralded the 30-year-old’s recent form but admitted he was frustrated with what might have been had he been available early in the campaign.

Griffiths was publicly chastised by manager Neil Lennon for returning to training unfit and overweight and had to wait until December 23 to make his first Premiership start of the season.

Celtic striker

He has gone on to score five goals in 11 appearances across all competitions and played 65 minutes in Saturday’s 1-0 derby day defeat to Rangers.

Despite the striker’s upturn of form in recent weeks, Whelan has insisted the Hoops may have enjoyed a better first half of the season had the Scotland international been available.

Whelan told Football Insider: “Well, if he’d have come in bang on weight and not overweight and not enjoyed the summer a little bit too much, yes, it may have been a different story.

Subscribe to Football Insider TV now

“I just feel that their woes this year have come defensively, as a group, rather than the attack. What you have got now is a goal scorer which we all know, on his day, he is one of the best in the Premiership. Absolutely no shadow of a doubt about that.

“His movement, his finishing, the way brings others into play, he seems to have a good little rapport now with Edouard as well which is coming good at the right time.

“If you get a Leigh Griffiths in a confident mood and scoring and firing on all cylinders, you’ve got to keep close, you’ve got to keep an eye on him and concentrate for 90 minutes.”

In other news, Football Insider can reveal Rangers are ready to blow Celtic out of the water to sign England-based defender.