Anthony Stokes has been backed to tear up the Scottish Championship if he returns to Hibs this month.
The Easter Road side are hopeful of landing the out-of-favour Celtic striker on loan until the end of the season. Colin Nish, who partnered the 27-year-old in attack during his goal-laden first spell at Hibs in the 2009/10 season, believes the Ireland internationalist would be a blockbuster signing for his old club.
“It’s not very often you can guarantee that someone will score you goals, but I think if Stokesy was to go to Hibs now, in the Championship, you pretty much could,” Nish told the Evening News. “He’s the sort of striker who will score goals wherever he plays. He could still easily play at the top end of the Premiership. Any time I’ve seen him play for Celtic, I feel he’s done well, so if Hibs manage to pull it off, I don’t have any doubt that he’d be a really brilliant signing.”
Nish watched at close quarters as a then-21-year-old Stokes led Hibs towards their last European campaign with a 23-goal haul under John Hughes six seasons ago.
“He was like a breath of fresh air at Hibs the last time,” said Nish, now manager of Cowdenbeath. “Hibs were probably the club that rejuvenated his career. He came in from Sunderland needing to kick-start his career and he certainly did that at Hibs. John Hughes managed to get a lot out of him.
“He scored goals out of nothing, he was a great finisher. He could do things with his feet that were pretty incredible. Derek Riordan was at Hibs at the same time and, although he could play up front, he mainly played off the left, whereas Stokesy generally played right up the middle. He just loved scoring goals and he was really easy to play up front with.”
Stokes hasn’t featured at all for Celtic since August. However, Nish believes any shortage of match practice would be offset by the striker’s desperation to start scoring goals again as he bids to cement his place in the Ireland squad for this summer’s European Championships in France.
“He’s not played much at Celtic, but I think he’s the sort of guy who will be fine just coming straight into the Hibs team and trying to impress,” said Nish. “He’ll have a point to prove and he’ll be absolutely desperate to get playing again. Stokesy just wants to play football and score every week. He’s not happy if he comes off the park and he’s not scored.”
Dundee United and Inverness, now managed by Hughes, are among the other clubs credited with an interest in Stokes, but Nish believes his bond with Hibs will count for plenty and doesn’t envisage the prospect of dropping into the Championship being an obstacle to an Easter Road return.
“I always felt like he was happy at Hibs,” said Nish. “John Hughes was really good with him and Stokesy got on really well with him, so that will be in his thinking, but I think his first spell at Hibs will also be in his thinking. He really enjoyed playing for Hibs and he enjoyed living in Edinburgh.
“Hibs have got plenty to play for as well. They’ve got a title to go for and they’re still in both cups. There’s a lot of publicity about the Championship at the moment and he’d be involved in a lot of big games. You always want to play at the highest level possible, but I think the prospect of going back to Hibs and trying to win a league would appeal to Stokesy. If he chooses to come to Hibs when he’s got other options that would bode well.”
Stokes has attracted negative headlines throughout his career, but Nish dismissed any notion of him as a serial troublemaker. “I didn’t see that side to him at all,” he said. “You read about a lot of players who are meant to be trouble-makers – Derek Riordan was another one – but when you share a dressing-room with them and get to know them, you find they’re not at all. Stokesy, and Derek for that matter, were both great guys around the dressing-room so I don’t think Hibs would have anything to worry about on that front.”
Stokes was suspended by Celtic last month after revealing his frustration at his lack of game time on Twitter when he was left on the sidelines for a match at Inverness. Nish insists this should be of no concern to Hibs.
“When people do that, I think it’s just because of a frustration that they’re not playing,” he said. “It’s not a bad thing that he’s that desperate to play. A lot of people wouldn’t do that because they feel it’s not the right thing to do, but sometimes emotions get the better of people.”
Hibs can already call on eight senior strikers, although Nish insists that Alan Stubbs is right not to view this relative wealth of options as an impediment to adding Stokes.
“I think this is just a case of Alan seeing that he’s got a chance to sign someone who is definitely too good to play in that league,” said Nish. “It would be up to Alan whether Stokesy automatically jumps to the top of the pecking order. Of those eight or nine players, they’re not all out-and-out strikers, whereas Stokesy is. Some of them can play wide and the likes of James Keatings can play in behind, so there would be plenty options there depending on how Alan wants to play.”
The arrival of Stokes would create the possibility of a prolific partnership with the in-demand Jason Cummings, who is well on his way to breaking the 20-goal barrier for the second season running.
“Stokesy and Cummings would be a very exciting prospect,” said Nish. “Stokesy would be a very good replacement if Cummings left, but if they can keep him and get Stokesy in, that would be a very good pairing. It’d be nice if Hibs could get Stokesy in and at least hold on to Cummings until the end of the season to help them put in a real challenge for the league.”