Hibs were ‘very close’ to Anthony Stokes signing, admits head coach Neil Lennon

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BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport

NEIL LENNON has revealed Anthony Stokes was on the cusp of rejoining Hibs during a dramatic deadline day for the Easter Road outfit.

However, after emerging empty-handed from Tuesday night, the Hibees head coach is adamant he is content with the quality in his squad.

Lennon was keen to add another striker to his ranks before the closure of the January transfer window and identified the Irishman – who bagged a brace in last May’s historic Scottish Cup final win over Rangers during a loan stint from Celtic – as their prime target.

Talks were at an advanced stage, with Hibs staff working long into the night, however they could not get the deal over the line before the midnight deadline.

Stokes, who played under Lennon at the Hoops for four years, will now remain at Blackburn – where he has played just 16 minutes of senior football since August.

Lennon confirmed: “How close were we with Stokesy? Very close. I don’t think I am talking out of turn when I say that.

“I was here [on Tuesday night] and, to be fair to the club, they did everything they could to try and get the deal done.

“There is certainly no blame to be apportioned to anyone on our side. He’s back at Blackburn now.

“However, it didn’t happen and we go as we are. We have brought in Chris Humphrey, we have brought in Scott Gallacher – and no-one has gone out. Thankfully it is over and the window is shut.

“I’m happy, I have a good squad here that has taken us to an eight-point lead. You always look to strengthen if you can – and we tried to do that – but it’s not always possible and we go with what we’ve got.”

Lennon – who yesterday picked up Championship manager of the month for January from sponsors Ladbrokes after posting an 100 per cent record from their three league matches – has played down the prospect of resurrecting Hibs’ interest in Kris Commons.

The 33-year-old scored two goals in five appearances for the Hibees during a 28-day loan, including pivotal winning goals against Falkirk and Dumbarton, and the club were keen to seal a deal to bring him back to Leith.

However, that proved a bridge too far and, while they could theoretically make another loan bid for the player outside the transfer window, it is not something Lennon plans on pursuing.

He continued: “It was very difficult to resurrect that again. We did it at the time because we were losing bodies and it worked for us – I think it worked for Kris as well. But longer term he has got to think about his own future.

“If we were even thinking about trying to do a longer term deal it would have been very difficult for us. I doubt we’d be able to bring him in again, even on a short term basis.

“Whether we would want to as well, with everyone back fit? It would maybe clog things up a little bit as well. But you never say never.

“He’s a quality player, for any club, and made a really pivotal contribution while he was here.”

Meanwhile, Lennon, who was last night awaiting the results of Paul Hanlon’s visit to a specialist regarding a pelvis complaint, has told his stars they are playing for a place in the Edinburgh derby when Ayr United visit this weekend.

The Scottish Cup holders have a mouth-watering clash against city rivals Hearts next weekend as they defend their trophy, but Lennon is wary of complacency – and has promised that anyone who doesn’t perform against the Honest Men will not face the Jambos.

With Hibs boasting an eight-point lead over Dundee United, Lennon added: “All our focus is on Ayr United. They’re the only team to beat us at Easter Road so we’re not taking the game lightly. If they don’t perform on Saturday they will not play next week. It’s simple.”

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