BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Alan Stubbs believes Anthony Stokes could be the signing which secures the Championship title for Hibernian after vowing to let the Celtic outcast express himself at Easter Road.
Stokes has endured a miserable campaign at Parkhead this season, making just two appearances. He also clashed with manager Ronny Deila following a twitter outburst in November when he railed against being left out of the match-day squad against Inverness.
Despite reportedly patching things up with the Norwegian, his desire for first-team football has seen him leave Glasgow on loan, with a return to the Hibees until the end of the season on the cards.
The 27-year-old scored 24 goals during his one campaign in the capital in 2009/10, with his flair, unpredictability and eye for goal endearing himself to the Hibees faithful.
And, if Stokes decides on a return to Leith, that is what Stubbs wants to see during the run-in as Hibs attempt to pip Rangers to the Championship crown.
The Hibs boss lauded: “We’ve agreed with Celtic what we need to agree and now hopefully we can sort out one or two little things with Anthony and his agent.
“Obviously things, for whatever reason, haven’t worked out the way everyone would have liked for Anthony and this is an opportunity for him to go out and play.
“I wouldn’t have a problem putting Anthony in against Falkirk on Sunday. We could get it done for in time for that match if everyone agrees to everything in the deal.
“It’s about what Anthony can offer us. He brings goals and knows what he’s coming into. I’m sure he has spoken to a few of the lads about it here. His ability is not in question.
“We are hopefully bringing Anthony in for football reasons and one we feel will give us a greater opportunity to achieve what we want to do. There’s a long way to go in the title race, but he definitely increases our odds of trying to do it.
“I think if you’re looking at the big picture and you ask have we got a chance of winning it, the answer is yes. Do we have a better chance with Anthony Stokes? I think the answer is pretty obvious.”
On the occasions Stokes has been picked by Celtic under Deila, he has often been utilised on the flank or in a deeper role. Stubbs, by contrast, is keen to allow the player to thrive in his natural habitat in front of goal.
The Hibs boss takes pride in polishing rough diamonds, having got the best out of the likes of Scott Allan, Fraser Fyvie and Jason Cummings, and he evidently wants to give Stokes the chance to shine.
Stubbs continued: “Speaking to the lads who know Anthony, he just wants to try and move on and play regularly. We will give him that opportunity.
“He’s not just going to walk into the team, he’s going to have to earn his place. But he’ll be allowed to express himself in my team. He’ll get that from me.
“I don’t like to put shackles on players, they know what their jobs are, but they are allowed to express themselves and be a little bit different.
“We’ll give him a platform and a stage to perform on and what he does on that stage is entirely up to Anthony.”
Stokes arrival comes after Hibs cut short the loan deals of fellow forwards Henri Anier and Islam Feruz, with the duo returning to Dundee United and Chelsea respectively.
While Anier turned in a couple of useful cameos – setting up the last-minute equaliser against Falkirk last month with a delightful back-heel – Feruz was anonymous in six substitute appearances for the club.
However, Stubbs was loathe to criticise the Scotland under-21 international.
He added: “Islam was no problem to me, I didn’t find him any trouble whatsoever, it’s just unfortunate the team have been in very good form and those who have been playing in his position have been doing well.
“I hope for his sake he gets something in England – he’s a young lad who wants to play. I hope he can go somewhere, play, score goals and show his talent.
“When you are at any big club – Chelsea, United, Arsenal, Man City – there’s always an expectation when players are out on loan. He’s had that from a young age.
“Sometimes people can look at that as it not working out, but sometimes it’s just unfortunate and nothing to do with him. He’s got something to offer, I just couldn’t give him the amount of game time he wanted.”