Celtic star Stokes wants to make up for lost time

FOR Anthony Stokes, this season's Champions League run has meant only one thing – sheer agony.

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Anthony Stokes hopes to play a part against Juventus
Anthony Stokes hopes to play a part against Juventus

An ankle injury picked up in a pre-season friendly against Inter Milan meant the striker has played in only the opening qualifying tie against Helsinki.

Since then, he has been reduced to the role of uneasy spectator.

Tonight, the Republic of Ireland internationalist hopes he can finally get his chance to make a contribution to the Hoops' best European campaign for five years.

With doubts over the fitness of Georgios Samaras and James Forrest, Stokes' return to action could not be better timed, and manager Neil Lennon praised his performance against Inverness at the weekend, his first start since his return from injury.

With his contract running out this summer, the 24-year-old is desperate to recapture the form that made him such an important part of the Europa League side last season.

But, having more than enough opportunity to study the opposition during his down time, Stokes is only too aware how tough it will be to get past Juve.

He said: "They are regulars in the Champions League and have a lot of experience. But, we just have to go out with the right game plan, concentrate on ourselves, and see where that takes us.

"There's no point going out to try and draw or be negative. We want to get a good result. But, we know we are going to have to be very careful."

Having sat among the supporters so often on big European nights this season, Stokes knows how the expectation that comes with playing at Celtic Park can cloud judgement. After all, the Hoops did defeat Barcelona there, so the theory is they should be good enough to down anyone.

"If only it was that easy," said Stokes. "Everyone knows we are expected to win every game, regardless of who we play.

"To beat Barcelona was unbelievable but this is a completely different game.

"That was in the Group Stages and now we are down to the nitty gritty of the knockout rounds. It's massive, and we'll just have to play our own game."

Lennon is likely to hold Stokes in reserve, ready to throw him on if a goal is needed. But, any kind of involvement would put a huge smile on the face of the man who has had a frustrating season.

Stokes admitted: "It has been disappointing to miss out on the Champions League run, but there was nothing I could do about it.

"Up until I got that injury, I'd been very lucky throughout my career, and had never missed more than a couple of weeks,

"I got the injury against Inter Milan. It wasn't even a tackle. I just blocked the ball. But the way I landed, unluckily for me, it put me out for six months.

"I've only just got back playing in the last couple of weeks, and I just want to try to get involved in the squad.

"If I can have an impact coming off the bench, or whatever it may be, that would be brilliant.

"I need a bit more fitness. Saturday was my first 90 minutes for the best part of seven months.

"It was great to get that under my belt and I felt sharp enough, but we will see what happens tonight."

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