Hibs manager Neil Lennon expects to see “a very motivated” Anthony Stokes in the weeks to come, revealing the Republic of Ireland striker was dropped for last weekend’s match against Hamilton after the pair had a training ground bust-up.
Lennon was reluctant to divulge any great detail as to what had led to the action taken against Stokes, other than to say “we had a difference of opinion” but, he insisted, the matter was now at and end with the player restored to his squad for tomorrow’s game with Partick Thistle.
Lennon was adamant that Stokes’ attitude has been good since he returned for a third stint at Easter Road and described the incident as an isolated one while agreeing the player, who worked under him at Celtic, should have known better than to get on his wrong side.
Stokes had been battling a virus which had limited his time on the training ground and that, claimed Lennon, also played a part in his decision to axe him for the Accies game which ended in a 1-1 draw.
He said: “It was an isolated incident. I was not going to tolerate that and he understands that. He had only trained one day because of a bug and hadn’t trained much in the previous two weeks with the international break. He looked a bit under-cooked for me and against St Johnstone he looked a bit off it.
“That all culminated in me making the decision that he wasn’t going to be part of the squad that weekend.”
Stokes, however, has trained well this week to put himself back in contention and Lennon doesn’t believe the matter will prove to be a distraction as he looks for the 29-year-old, who has scored nine goals so far this season, to play his part this month as the Edinburgh club face seven league games including matches against the Premiership’s top three, Celtic, Rangers and Aberdeen in the space of just six days.
He said: “Anthony has been a bit in and out, but he still has real quality. Now he needs to come and add that quality to the squad, particularly this month. He’s fit and raring to go. He has accepted he was in the wrong and is getting on with it.
“He didn’t have to apologise. He just needs to understand that there are certain codes of conduct and a level of discipline you know you can’t cross with me and he knows that. It’s done now.
“I think we will see a very motivated Anthony Stokes for the next few weeks.”
Hibs make the trip to Firhill having not lost a league match “on the road” for nine months, a record Lennon is determined to extend, particularly given Celtic and Rangers face a re-match with their midweek opponents, Motherwell and Aberdeen respectively, this weekend.
He said: “It’s important because the teams around us are playing each other so something has to give in those games. But it is important first of all for us to get back to winning ways and, if we can, capitalise on what happens elsewhere.
“We’ve been very good away from home, I don’t know what the recipe is for it but they seem to be unfazed by playing away. We’ve had a couple of great wins away and two big results in Glasgow so hopefully that continues.”