Anthony Stokes believes he and Jason Cummings can strike up as deadly a partnership as he did first time round at Easter Road with Derek Riordan.
Between them. Stokes and Riordan plundered 43 goals in a season, the Republic of Ireland striker pointing out he scored 23 of them, and now he’s aiming to do the same having signed until the end of the season on loan from Premiership champions Celtic.
Stokes was at Falkirk last Sunday to see Cummings claim his 17th goal of the season and was impressed by what he had seen of the 20-year-old.
He said: “Jason’s been flying. He’s having an outstanding season. I was watching him the other day. I was thinking ‘he’s been quiet enough today’, but he sneaks out a goal. He got himself in a great position to score a winner. He doesn’t seem to be put off when he misses opportunities or when breaks aren’t coming in his game.
“He looks like a great prospect and he’s had an outstanding season so I’m looking forward to playing alongside him.”
And asked of the prospect of he and Cummings being as prolific as his partnership with Riordan seven years ago, he replied: “I hope so. I think, as a striker, if you’re going to play two up front, it’s vital that you get an understanding. I’m just looking forward to getting into training and trying to work on that.”
Having not played since August and Celtic boss Ronny Deila clearly not a great fan of his ability, Stokes admitted it might take him a couple of weeks to get up to pace but insisted he’s determined to prove his point.
He said: “I think you always have a point to prove. I haven’t played in four or five months. I’ve been doing double sessions and trying to work hard, but there is nothing like playing games. That bit of match sharpness might be lacking but, of course, I need to prove myself. You need to prove yourself year in, year out. There is no difference here.”
Stokes found himself the subject of great interest when it became known he was available during this transfer window with Premiership sides Inverness Caley and Dundee United chasing his signature along with a clutch of English clubs.
But, he revealed, after a chat with Hibs head coach Alan Stubbs and former Celtic team-mates Dylan McGeouch and Liam Henderson – now at Easter Road – he was anxious for a return to Edinburgh.
He said: “I’m delighted to be here and looking forward to the run-in for the rest of the season. I want to be back playing football, playing games and enjoying my football.
“I had options in the English Championship and in the Scottish Premiership but I had a good feeling when Hibs were on the phone and everyone spoke very highly of Alan Stubbs.
“I know the club and I know a lot of the players here. You have to consider, when you are looking at a four-month loan, about going to a team where you think you will settle in straight away.
“Hibs are a creative team in this league. I’ve watched a few of their games this season and they carve out chances. I was always swaying towards Hibs.”
Stokes is well aware the spotlight will be firmly on him along with high expectations from the Hibs support, many of whom will believe he can be the player to help the Capital club pip Rangers to the Championship title and the one automatic promotion place it carries.
But, he insisted, he’s well versed in coping with such attention, saying: “If you can handle it at Celtic for four or five years, I think you can cope with this okay. It’s going to be very tough. Falkirk are right there kicking about, Rangers are five points clear, but we’ve got a big game at the weekend. If we can put a bit of pressure on Rangers, that’s what you have to do in run-ins for titles – just keep putting pressure on the opposition and see who comes out on top.”
Much, of course, will be made of him as a Celtic player facing Rangers at the beginning of March, but Stokes insisted you have to look at the wider picture, insisting: “I don’t think you can worry too much about that. We just have to focus on ourselves here and keep pushing till the end of the season because when you’re up there around January it doesn’t mean anything.
“It’s the next six or seven weeks that really start to tell who’s going to push on and be in contention. There are big games coming up, Hearts in the cup, Rangers in March, so I’m looking forward to it.”
And, if Hibs should take the title, Stokes was adamant he shouldn’t be singled out as the reason why. He said: “If we win the league here, it won’t be down to me it will be down to the team. Look at the position they’re in already this season. They’re only five points off Rangers.
“Whether I was here or wasn’t here, they’d have an opportunity to cut that to two points at the weekend. It’s a good, young team, they’re creative and I’m just hoping there are plenty of chances made to put the ball in the back of the net and get some good results.”
More than a few Celtic fans have expressed surprise at Stokes being allowed to leave given his past scoring record for the Hoops, leading him to reply: “Pity they’re not picking the team, isn’t it? I don’t know, you might as well ask them. Listen, I don’t know what it is. Ronny Deila, I speak to him on a regular basis and we have plenty of plenty of conversations.
“I like him, he is a good fella, but he obviously doesn’t rate me as a footballer because if he did I would be in the team. It is what it is. There is not much to be said about it. I am not going to focus on anything that has gone on in the last four or five months. I am coming here with the intentions in my mind of getting back, enjoying my football, getting as fit as I possibly can and enjoying it and scoring goals. Just help the team as much as I possibly can.”