Anthony Stokes’ derby place in doubt as striker faces Hibs exit

Anthony Stokes has tested the patience of Hibs
Anthony Stokes has tested the patience of Hibs
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Hibs boss Neil Lennon has refused to shed light on the future of Anthony Stokes amid claims the striker is heading for the Easter Road exit door.

Stokes – along with Danny Swanson and Martin Boyle – was carpeted during the Edinburgh club’s winter training camp in the Algarve for breaking a curfew, the second time in only a couple of months he’d fallen foul of Lennon.

English League One side Charlton Athletic and a Polish outfit are understood to be ready to pay a fee for the 29-year-old, who is currently in his third spell with Hibs, his second having seen him score twice as Rangers were beaten to end the club’s 114-year Scottish Cup hoodoo.

But even the legendary status accorded him thanks to that day won’t, it appears, be enough to prevent him being off-loaded, having tested the patience not only of Lennon but the Easter Road board.

Lennon refused to answer any questions regarding Stokes’ situation, answering only “he might be” when asked if the former Republic of Ireland star would be in the squad for tomorrow’s Scottish Cup clash with Capital rivals Hearts. However, it is understood Stokes wasn’t at Hibs’ East Mains training base yesterday, casting serious doubt over his inclusion for the trip to Tynecastle.

The head coach, though, will be irked with Stokes providing an unwanted distraction on the eve of the derby, Hibs heading to Gorgie intent on extending their nine-match unbeaten run against Hearts.

It’s the third season in succession the Capital sides have been drawn together in the Cup, Hibs triumphing on each of the two previous occasions following a replay at Easter Road and Lennon believes his players are more than ready for a repeat performance. He said: “If we want to win the cup then we have to negotiate it. It is the only realistic chance of a trophy that we have left.

“If you are going to win the cup, you have to face all-comers along the way and the first one is Hearts away. We are not getting too excited, or too tense about it. We approach the game the way we always do and try to take the game to them as much as we can.

“It is a cup tie, a one-off game, anything can happen, but I think the players are fully focused and ready. They’ve handled the psychologoy of the game very well in terms of the build-up and the throes of the game as well. We’re pretty well equipped in that department and we can play a bit as well, too.” Lennon has flying winger Brandon Barker fit again after the on-loan Manchester City youngster picked up a knee injury in the last derby, a game from which Oli Shaw’s disallowed goal remains a major talking point with Lennon adamant his teenage striker is “owed one” tomorrow.

However, the Hibs head coach admitted the narrowness of the Tynecastle pitch means he’s unlikey to field both Barker and Boyle in his starting line-up, revealing he probably won’t make a final decision on that until he sees the conditions tomorrow.

He said: “We’ll have a look at it and have a think about how we will approach the game. We did that the last time.”

Swanson, meanwhile, seems set to leave Easter Road with St Johnstone keen to take the midfielder back to McDiarmid Park on loan until the end of the season, the 31-year-old having failed to recapture the form he showed in Perth after signing for Hibs in the summer.

Confirming a “genuine interest” in Swanson, Lennon said: “It is something which may rumble on. There has been an enquiry but nothing more at the minute.”

Lennon revealed there had been a enquiries regarding a couple of his players but, other than a rejected offer from Turkish side Elazigspor for striker Simon Murray, there had been no other confirmed bids.