In that second half, playing in those thankfully now defunct yellow and black shirts, it was Celtic’s number 10 who was the most desperate to find the back of the net, the one most desperate to ‘find the answers’ his gaffer had demanded. His free kick for the first goal was outstanding and his outside the box drive to find the bottom left corner for the second was the pure opportunism of a goal-hungry, passionate striker.
His reaction to scoring each of those goals – let’s get back and get at them again – showed the other side of Anthony Stokes. He just loves scoring goals for Celtic and seems to thrive on the competition with Hooper to be top scorer.
Stokes didn’t achieve that accolade last season – it was Hooper who took the SPL Golden Boot – but who is to say that the rivalry with Stokes didn’t play a part in Hooper’s wonderful achievement. If Hooper and Stokes are Smashie and Nicey then Stokes is the one with the more Celtic fire in his belly.
We shouldn’t overlook the fact that Stokes scored 21 goals in all competitions last season, including those two humdingers against Killie. It’s seems easy for fans to overlook his contribution just as it appears that the manager sometimes overlooks him too.
He doesn’t have the Jinkyesque flair of a Paddy McCourt to send frissons of delight through the elders in the Main Stand, and he doesn’t have the engine of a Samaras whose flowing locks are visible even from the last row of the North Stand as he drives and rives again at opposing defenders. In fact that’s a point about that’s also overlooked about Anthony Stokes. His thinning hair makes him look older than he is but he’s not 24 until the end of July and still has plenty of time to mature as a player – and as a man. But then Tony Watt is only 18 and has already stolen Stokesy’s song!
Off the field his upbringing may have made Stokes something of a rebel. He’s the kind of guy that might just have said the wrong thing to a dour and disciplined Trapattoni, or fell out with his team mates on a night out in London and took a taxi 500 miles back to Glasgow when their ribbing got out of hand.
But Stokes became a father this year and didn’t appear to let the disgusting attack on his home while his pregnant girlfriend was inside and he was away playing at Inverness affect his performance on the pitch. It’s a certain sign of real maturity to be able to focus on the task at hand when others are deliberately trying to provoke you.
There are other players who, for me, have made a much greater contribution to the championship winning season – Mulgrew, Samaras, Hooper, Wanyama, Ledley as well as once lamented Scott Brown, but Stokes has had a major part to play. Which leads to the important question of how much Neil Lennon values the contribution of his number 10.
Why is it that he seems to drop Stokes for some of the big games, and especially against the club formerly known as Rangers?
The tainted tartan media will tell you that it’s simply due to the fact the Celtic manager doesn’t rate Stokes that highly, and tacticians will probably tell us that a formation with Samaras on the left, rather than twin strikers up front, is more potent for the packed midfield battles of a game against Hearts.
I would offer another view. Lennon likes Stokesy, even seems to have a bit of a soft spot for him, and is often quite protective of him in some of those volatile big game occasions in case he goes all Michael Collins on the opposition.
Lennon knows Stokes is a Celtic man who can be fiery and volatile but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a major part to play in all Celtic’s future European campaigns.