John Doolan has backed “big game” striker Anthony Stokes to come into his own as Hibs chase promotion and a place in the Scottish Cup final, insisting the best is yet to come from the on-loan Celtic player.
The Easter Road club were seen to have pulled off something of a coup during the January transfer window in persuading Stokes to return to Edinburgh despite interest from elsewhere.
But although he has scored six goals, four of them in his last four matches, many fans began questioning the wisdom of that move as they watched Hibs’ title challenge vanish as they hit an unexpected slump.
However, while conceding Stokes was short of fitness when he arrived and that he is still looking for the Republic of Ireland internationalist to “do more”, first-team coach Doolan insisted the 27-year-old will play a key role at the business end of the season.
He said: “You could see when he first came in he was short, he wasn’t fit, he wasn’t sharp. We’ve got him to a level of fitness now which we think is good enough, but we still feel he could do a bit more.
“He knows himself, we’ve had chats about it, that he can do a lot more. He’s come in, scored important goals and gives us something a bit different at that top end. We’d like to see it on a more regular basis to get us where we need to be. He has got a bit sharper and he needs to be even sharper.
“Having said that, if he keeps doing less but scores goals, we’ll have that all day.”
Claiming Stokes had “come up trumps” against Livingston, hauling Hibs level after Jordan White’s opener before Martin Boyle’s thunderbolt earned a much-needed victory, Doolan firmly believes the former Arsenal, Falkirk and Sunderland hitman will play a key role in the remainder of the season.
He said: “Stokesy is a big-game player. He is going to be a big part of what happens for the rest of the season. I’d rather have him in my team as he has come from Celtic. He is a massive player, he wants to succeed and that is why he came here as he knows what this club is all about as he has been here before.
“He had other offers from good clubs that he could have gone to, but he didn’t. He likes it here, he likes the gaffer and the way we do things.
“He’s had chances in games to score more goals but the keeper has made a save or he has missed the target. He showed what he can do against Livingston as he created half a yard from Jason Cummings’ flick after a ten-pass move and then banged it into the net.”