Saturday 16 December 2017

Stokes focus on winning over Lennon

Jamie Holland

Anthony Stokes insists he has put Celtic's 9-0 thrashing of Aberdeen last season to the back of mind as Neil Lennon's Bhoys prepare to take on the Dons at Parkhead tomorrow.

The Dubliner hit a hat-trick in the corresponding fixture last season when the sorry visitors were lucky to avoid a double-figures defeat.

Stokes also scored in Celtic's three other victories over Aberdeen last term -- and in the 1-0 win at Pittodrie early this season.

"I know I scored a hat-trick against them last year but that counts for nothing now," he said.

Stokes played as Celtic's lone striker in their 1-1 draw against Rennes in the Europa League on Thursday night, when Joe Ledley's equaliser, following a calamitous own goal by Cha Du-ri, kept their hopes alive.

Stokes admitted that his role in Rennes was exhausting, but he is determined to make the most of every chance he gets to impress manager Neil Lennon, who has often left him out of the bigger games.

"It was a hard shift up there, but I did as well as I could and I was happy enough with my performance," he said.

"It can be a thankless task, but I am just trying to do as well as I possibly can in training and in games and try to score goals."

Lennon was delighted by the way Stokes stuck to his task in a manner which has not always been obvious since he arrived at Celtic.

"You talk about the devil -- Anthony has plenty of the devil in him. He just needs to channel it in the right directions," said Lennon.

"We have had a chat with him about his off-field discipline. He is getting a lot of respect now from the players because he is doing it on the pitch.

"I thought he was brilliant in Rennes -- a really mature performance. He was not giving the ball up cheaply, and some of his movement was superb.

"He gave the back two a real hard time. He doesn't need to prove a point to me, he just needs to prove it to himself and to his team-mates.

"That's his benchmark, and I think there is a very good player there desperate to get out."

Having seen his team lose three of the four games they have played after European ties this season -- to St Johnstone, Rangers and Hearts -- Lennon is desperate not to concede more ground to their Old Firm rivals.

Rangers are 10 points clear of Celtic at the top of the table, although the third-placed Hoops have a game in hand.

"The important thing is to build on our performance in France," said Lennon. "We have to look at our preparations for the Aberdeen game and get it right. Home form is very important if we are to challenge for honours.

"We have shown we can compete at a very good level, but the players have just not been showing it on a consistent basis. So what I am looking for now is to carry some momentum into the next game."

Irish Independent

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