Lennon explains why he can’t leave Stokes out of Hibs team

Anthony Stokes, left, has been hailed by Neil Lennon, right. Pic: SNS
Anthony Stokes, left, has been hailed by Neil Lennon, right. Pic: SNS
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Hibs boss Neil Lennon feels he can’t consider leaving Anthony Stokes out of his team – because the striker is always likely to come up with a touch of magic.

Stokes took his goals tally for the season to seven, scoring from the penalty spot for the second game in succession as he netted the winner against Livingston to send the Capital side into the semi-finals of the Betfred Cup.

But while praising the 29-year-old’s steely nerve in converting that late strike, Lennon was also delighted with the part Stokes had played in a well-worked short corner which led to Martin Boyle levelling the score at 2-2 in a breathtaking first half in which Livingston had twice taken the lead through Alan Lithgow – his header cancelled out by Danny Swanson’s goal – and then Raffaele De Vita.

Conceding that the spot-kick may have been contentious, on-loan Hearts player Nikolay Todorov bundling over Paul Hanlon, Lennon said: “Anthony showed plenty of control and composure which was really important.

“He didn’t have his best game, but you cannot leave him out as he’s always likely to create something and did great for our second goal.”

Stokes had taken the corner which led to that goal, playing the ball to John McGinn before flicking the return pass into the path of Boyle, a move which, revealed Lennon, had been well rehearsed on the training ground.

He said: “We’ve been working on corners and we worked that one really well. I hope the Hibs fans see why we work short corners. Sometimes our delivery is poor and I think we have players who can work it short and change the angle of the cross. We have worked that and got our reward.”

Lennon was delighted with the reaction from his players after publicly castigating them for having surrendered a two-goal lead against Motherwell a few days earlier and, while admitting there are “still a few defensive creases to iron out”, he said: “I was thrilled, we played very well.

“It could have been tense and nervy, but the reaction I got was fantastic. I was delighted for the players but, more importantly, the supporters. We have a semi-final to look forward to which is very exciting. Being at a club like Hibs that’s what it is all about, competing in the cups and we are doing that.”

Admitting Lithgow’s goal was a poor one to concede, Lennon added: “Our reaction was positive. We conceded another which maybe we couldn’t have done too much about – it was a great strike from De Vita – but again our reaction was fantastic.

“Danny’s was a terrific finish, bending it in to the top corner which is a skill in itself, but his all-round play was very sharp. He tired obviously, but he can very, very pleased.”

Boyle was another who caught Lennon’s eye, the Hibs boss describing him as “a Duracell bunny”. He told Hibs TV: “Martin was brilliant. He was disappointing on Saturday and I let him know, but I also know what I have with him. He was a threat all night, he kept going and going and even at the end he was wearing people down.

“He’s a good player and I am really pleased he is on our side.”