BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
KEITH WRIGHT knows securing the return of Scottish Cup-winning legend Anthony Stokes would have been a deadline day dream for many Hibs fans.
However, the former Easter Road hitman is adamant Neil Lennon’s side DO have enough firepower to run away with the Championship title without the mercurial Irishman.
Stokes, 28, has been frozen out of the side at Blackburn Rovers – playing just 16 minutes for the first team since August – and the Hibees worked long into the night on Tuesday in a bid to bring the player back to the capital for a third spell. However, the clock ran out on the deal.
Wright, a Skol Cup hero of 1991, can see the attraction of snapping up the man who bagged a double in May’s historic 3-2 win over Rangers at Hampden – but has backed his former club to return to the big-time without Stokes’ intervention.
He said: “Anthony is a quality player and anyone who scores a couple of goals for Hibs in a Scottish Cup final will be welcomed back! So I can understand why fans would have liked it to happen.
“I’m not sure there is too much of a reason to be disappointed, though. He would have been a good addition, and it would mean more options within the squad, but I don’t think he would have made the difference in whether they win the league or not.
“They have enough firepower to maintain their lead, and maybe increase it.
“There’s still a fair bit of depth there. Jason Cummings is doing well. I’ve always thought he is a striker that thrives on confidence and, after a wee spell out of the team, he is looking sharp again and finding the net. He’ll want to be the main man.
“Then you’ve got Grant Holt, James Keatings, Martin Boyle and even young Danny Handling coming back. These are all good attacking options.
“There is competition for places and all the strikers know they need to be firing on all cylinders to keep their place. Even without Anthony, everyone will be looking over their shoulders and knowing they are in a scrap for the jersey.”
Lennon’s attempts to tempt Kris Commons back to Easter Road also fell by the wayside, with the English playmaker remaining at Celtic.
The 33-year-old’s 28-day loan stint was dazzling, with his winning goals against Falkirk and Dumbarton a major factor in Hibs now boasting an eight-point lead over Dundee United.
However, Wright said: “Maybe the club would have pushed a bit harder for Kris if things had been a bit tighter at the top.
“I’m not saying [the Championship] is done and dusted, but I think Neil Lennon can be happy with the quality in his squad and the lead they have.
“Commons would have been a short-term fix, so hopefully this will give other players the chance to step up and show Neil Lennon they are good enough to play in the top-flight longer term – because I’m confident they will get there.”
Hibs’ failure to secure a return for either Stokes or Commons means Lennon’s only permanent signings of the winter transfer window were the captures of Chris Humphrey and Scott Gallacher as third-choice goalkeeper.
But Wright believes the importance of getting Humphrey through the door early in January cannot be underestimated – and reckons he has already made a pivotal contribution in the race for the league title.
He added: “I was at the game against Dundee United and Chris was terrific. He was just what we expected and just what we needed. He brought pace and danger to that flank – him and Martin Boyle played really well that night. That was a massive win for Hibs.
“I don’t think it is a surprise Jason Cummings is firing again because, as a striker, Chris Humphrey is the type of guy you want to play with. He creates chances and was an important signing – and it was great for Hibs to get that business done early.”