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Irish exile Stokes fired up to keep Celts' title bid alive in Caley clash

Anthony Stokes (pictured below) will put his international rejection on the back burner as he attempts to keep Celtic's fragile title bid alive at Inverness tomorrow.

Stokes has not featured for Ireland since pulling out of friendlies last summer, citing fatigue as a reason. And at the moment, Celtic have his complete attention.

"I don't see why the door should be shut on me, to be perfectly honest," the Celtic striker said. "If I keep scoring goals and keep playing well and try to improve my game, I should have some sort of chance.

"But the lads who are there at the moment have been outstanding and they've qualified. It's going to be tough for me, but I'm going to concentrate on my club form and hopefully the call will come."

The words Inverness, Caldeonian and Thistle are etched heavily in Celtic's recent history, with the Highlands-based new boys causing grief to three different managers.



Ballistic

The infamous 'Super Caley go ballistic Celtic are atrocious' headline spelled the end of the road for John Barnes' brief Celtic career, while Martin O'Neill's revered side were knocked out of the Scottish Cup just days after beating Liverpool 2-0 at Anfield in the UEFA Cup.

With the destiny of last season's title still in their own hands, Celtic lost 3-2 in Inverness, with Rangers romping through their remaining matches to take the title.

Stokes and Gary Hooper were substituted during that defeat, with the former Hibs and Sunderland striker determined to ensure that there is no repeat in tomorrow's lunchtime kick off.

"We should have won, but it's not easy winning matches in this league," Stokes said. "The gaffer says that to us every week. Going up to Inverness, they are a physical, strong team who make it tough for you. That's what happened last season.

"We went into the game looking to win but we would have taken a draw if we could. We just didn't turn up on the night. It's as simple as that.

"We knew we had let Rangers get their foot back in the door. It was so disappointing as we just didn't turn up on the night.



Surprised

"As a team, we didn't perform but we have to forget about that now. We were on a decent run of form before the international break and we have to try and keep it going. Now we'd like to go there and show them what happened last year was a one-off."

Back-to-back wins over Rennes and Motherwell have eased the pressure slightly on Neil Lennon's side, but they remain 12 points behind Rangers in the title race. Celtic play their game in hand against Dunfermline in midweek, knowing that a run of three SPL wins on the bounce against Inverness, Dunfermline and St Mirren would cut Rangers' lead back to nine points and provide the team with a surge in confidence.

Throughout last season, there was never more than four points between the big two, with Stokes admitting that the current gap makes for uncomfortable viewing.

He added: "I'm surprised by the points. There's always going to be a spell in the season where teams will have a rocky spell.

"We just need to get some consistency in our game and keep winning. We need to take it game by game and can't look too far into the future. Maybe we've got ours out of the way. Rangers have been on a great run since the start of the season but there will come a time when they will drop points.

"We just need to concentrate on ourselves, take every game as it comes and see what happens. With the Old Firm games as well, you just never know."


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