GARY HOLT insists Anthony Stokes deserves to be praised rather than pilloried for ripping up his Livingston contract without taking a penny.
And the Lions boss has assured Stokes’ critics that the former Celtic hero still possesses the ‘drive and determination’ to re-ignite his career.
Stokes departed the Tony Macaroni Arena by mutual consent on Monday, just three weeks after penning a one-year deal with the Lions – and having failed to play a single minute for the club.
Addressing the high-profile exit for the first time on Thursday, Holt revealed how Stokes toiled with a persistent hip flexor complaint which was repeatedly exacerbated when he attempted to train on Livi’s plastic surface.
Holt had no complaints about the Irishman’s application or professionalism but accepts that it became increasingly clear that ‘it just wouldn’t work out’ and the parting of ways was amicable.
Holt said: “I need to give him [Stokes] a pat on the back because he came to us and said ‘it’s not working, I can’t get there and don’t feel right’.
“He could have stayed here and kept taking money and I could have persisted with him, dipping him in and out of training games trying to get him fit.
“For someone who is an employee to say ‘I think it’s best we go our separate ways and you guys can use the wage elsewhere’ says a lot about him.
“Anthony gets pilloried on social media and so much is written about him. But people don’t know the whole story of what is going on and, if they did, maybe they would think differently.
“Who else would be willing to leave without taking a penny? Credit where credit is due.”
While Holt is circumspect about how the eye-catching signing panned out, he confesses to a sense of regret after being transformed into a clapping punter by some of Stokes’ magic moments in training.
He continued: “You can’t help but think ‘what a chance that was’. What an opportunity to work with someone who has that quality.
“He settled in really well, the players loved him and a lot of what people read and write about Anthony isn’t true.
“His quality was in abundance. There were moments when I just stood and clapped at training – he was doing things no-one else at our club could have done, the way he could finish the ball.”
He adds: “I always look at myself and ask ‘was there anything more I could have done?’ But we gave him an opportunity – we tried and Anthony tried.”
Stokes’ recent run of clubs now consists of Apollon Smyrni, Tractor Sazi, Adana Demirspor, Persepolis and a fleeting stint in West Lothian, which effectively amounted to a few training sessions.
Although the mercurial marksman still boasts 136 goals and eight major honours in Scottish football, he appears in real danger of flaming out far too soon.
But Holt says: “He 100 per cent has the drive and determination to play at a high level. He has got the talent and hunger to play – he wants to play. I can see him doing that, just hopefully not against us!”
Livingston, who lost Lyndon Dykes to QPR and allowed strikers Jack Hamilton and Salim Kouider-Aissa leave on loan for Partick Thistle and East Fife respectively, are now visibly light in the attacking department.
Lars Lokotsch and Matej Poplatnik are their only recognised strikers for Saturday’s daunting trip to Parkhead, and Holt said: “We are certainly looking in that area and Anthony has given us that opportunity.”
Holt, meanwhile, was in defiant mood ahead of visiting the champions despite slipping to joint-bottom of the Premiership following a miserable defeat against Hamilton last weekend.
Holt added: “Are we going to dominate the ball? Probably not. Are we going to have the majority of the chances? Probably not.
“But we’ve got to have a game-plan to hurt them and believe we can hurt them. Otherwise, we’d be as well not turning up.”