BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
Ian Murray insists the capture of Anthony Stokes ‘guarantees’ Hibernian the goals they need and could not have been better timed as they enter a pivotal point in their season.
The pair were team-mates for 12 months during Murray’s second spell at Easter Road, when Stokes netted 24 goals in 48 games before moving to Celtic.
The Irishman’s loan signing from Parkhead was finally confirmed yesterday and comes as Hibs face a five-point gap to Rangers at the top of the Championshp and approach huge matches in both the League Cup semi-final and Edinburgh derby in the Scottish Cup in the coming weeks.
Murray believes the 27-year-old is as good a recruit as Alan Stubbs could have expected as he looked at strengthening his squad this month.
And there is no doubt in the former Hibs captain’s mind that the Republic of Ireland internationalist could take the Championship scoring charts by storm with the right service.
He said: “It’s a great signing for Hibs. Stokesy is a proven goal-scorer, and at the best team in the country as well.
“He’s got more experience now than when I played with him, because he’s played at a higher level, so it’s a great signing for Hibs.
“It’s great timing as well, in terms of them having a really tough run coming up, with the League Cup and the Scottish Cup and trying to hang on to the coattails of Rangers as well.
“It’s probably the boost they needed.
“I don’t think there’s a better signing out there for Hibs at the moment, in terms of what they needed and the calibre of player they’ve managed to get a hold of.”
With St Johnstone to face at Tynecastle on January 30 for a place in the League Cup final and then a trip to face Hearts eight days later in the Scottish Cup, Stokes will be viewed as a possible match-winner.
Murray added: “The fans will be excited, especially going into these really big games.
“Both cup games will be huge for them. If they can get to a final it would be brilliant and they’ll be desperate to get a result over at Tynecastle in the Scottish Cup as well.
“That type of player can only help things and there’s no question, looking from the outside, that it’s a huge signing for them.
“The hardest thing to do in football is score goals and he can do that, there’s no question.
“Playing in the Championship I would imagine that’s an absolute guarantee.
“If Hibs give him the service, which I’m sure they will, Stokes could score a barrow-load for them. As long as they keep him fit and get the ball to him there’s no question he’ll score goals.”
Murray is currently out of work after his departure from St Mirren last month but saw plenty of Hibs in his role as Buddies boss and last season when managing Dumbarton.
And the 34-year-old feels the arrival of Stokes could provide Hibs with the lethal ingredient they have been missing.
He added: “I’ve never felt they cut teams open as much as they could. But with Stokesy playing now, he has got it in him to cut teams open.
“If you get the ball to him anywhere, be it on the deck or in the air, he’ll make things happen.
“He’s good in the air and his movement’s good, so he gives Hibs other options now.
“You know what Jason Cummings is going to do; Dominique Malonga is different, you don’t really know what he’s going to do – and he’s probably not sure himself at times – but he does have the ability to cut you open.
“With Stokes you know what you’re going to get. You’re guaranteed goals, no question about that.”
Stubbs suggested he could ‘pull a rabbit out of a hat’ during the transfer window and, with Kevin Thomson poised to be another unexpected signing, the Hibs head coach is understandably thrilled with the capture of Stokes.
He commented: “Anthony is a fantastic footballer and will really strengthen the squad.
“We have a number of options in attack and real competition for places, which is what every manager wants.
“We are excited about Anthony coming here and I think he will prove to be a real asset.”