It’s not just the goals that Anthony’s scored for Celtic though, it’s the almost telepathic nature of his striking partnership with Gary Hooper that was so good to see. We haven’t had a decent striking partnership since Martin O’Neill couldn’t pick a partner for Henrik Larsson from John Hartson or Chris Sutton, but some of the football played between Stokes and Hooper brought the memories flooding back. The opening goal at Pittodrie at the end of January is possibly the pick of the bunch, with some inch perfect passing and close control carving up the Aberdeen defence like it was a Sunday roast, but that goal was just one of many that the two scored between them.
Another game that showcased the Hooper-Stokes partnership was the 3-0 win at Easter Road in January, where Anthony scored one of the goals of the season. With Hooper’s opener in the game another contender for that award, and a second goal for Stokes from the penalty spot having more or less sealed the points, it was time for a champagne moment. Celtic didn’t seem to score many goals from corners this season, but when a deep corner came to Stokes with his back to goal it was one touch to control and a second to hook it over his shoulder and into the net. You can’t beat a “which goal was better” debate after a convincing win.
There are still some doubts lingering about Stokes though. At just 23 there’s still time for those to be ironed out and put down to youthful exhilaration. A misdemeanour saw him miss out on the final league game of the season, and possibly also cost him a starting place in the Scottish Cup final, but they weren’t the only times he found himself behind Giorgios Samaras in the pecking order. After a quiet first match against Rangers in October where the only thing of note he did was to be lucky to stay on the park after clattering Sasa Papac very early in the game, he didn’t feature against Rangers in the New Year win at Ibrox, either game of the Scottish Cup fifth round tie, or even the League Cup final. Indeed, even in the 3-0 league win and the final 0-0 league draw he got nothing more than fleeting substitute appearances. Although he did win “that penalty” – I’d like to say it’s a shame he didn’t also take it, but Stokes did miss his own fair share of penalties this season so it may have been the same outcome anyway.
It’s probably still safe to say that he’s not been universally accepted by the Celtic support. In fact, curiously, it’s quite possible that Anthony’s dad, John, is more popular in the stands than Anthony himself. Certainly John Stokes is the one who has had the chants from the stands – a chant I’ve heard termed “sectarian” by some who probably don’t even understand what that word means. There’s nothing sectarian about it. It’s a fact, he does. Humour is once again lost in the madness that is Scottish Football.
Anthony Stokes is no doubt more highly thought of than the other striking options of Daryl Murphy and Giorgios Samaras – although Eddie’s keeping the full order of this list close to his chest as always, so I could be proven wrong – but there’s still that nagging feeling that his attitude isn’t quite what it should be. The fact that Lennon has been prone to dropping him would seem to back up this feeling. But it’s also a fact that in his time at Hibernian, Anthony was capable of scoring against anyone – especially Rangers. It’s also generally accepted that Hooper’s best performances came when he played along side the Irishman. Decent striking partnerships are not something which come around often, so when you get them you need to get the most out of them.
Hopefully we’ll see an even more deadly partnership between the two of them next season and they’ll not only be competing with each other as Celtic’s top goal scorer again, but this time competing to be the SPL top goal scorer, leading the way to the SPL title.