Celtic striker Stokes up for challenge if Lennon brings in new Bhoys

ANTHONY STOKES will welcome allcomers when the battle to be Celtic's main striker kicks off again next season.

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Anthony Stokes is relishing striking challenge
Anthony Stokes is relishing striking challenge

The Hoops hitman will be starting his fifth campaign at the club he joined from Hibs for £1.1million in the summer of 2010.

In that time he has seen many strikers come and go.

Manager Neil Lennon was in England last week, combining his attendance at the Managers' Forum with checking on potential signing targets.

He wants to add to his firepower again when the transfer window opens at the end of this season.

But Stokes has never been spooked by competition for a starting place, and doesn't intend to let it get to him now. He was given a vote of confidence by Lennon with a new contract earlier this season and is up for the fight.

The 25-year-old Republic of Ireland striker, who has struck 15 goals this term, said: "It's good to perk the boys up with new players coming in.

"I have always felt I've had to rise to a challenge when a striker comes in.

"But, that's good for the club, and I think it's good to push myself as well to try and improve. "

The addition of Leigh Griffiths in January is the latest example of this in action as Stokes has hit his best form of the campaign since the former Wolves man increased competition for places.

Stokes said: "I feel I'm adding bits and pieces to my game and that I bring more to the team than just goals.

"If you look at my performances before I came to Celtic when I was at Hibs, I scored a lot of goals. But I wouldn't look back and say I did a lot of work outside the box.

"This season, I have tried to mix it up, dropping a bit deeper or going wide.

"I actually prefer it, in a way, because I get to see a bit more of the ball, and I can try to make things happen.

"But, as a striker, I still judge myself on goals. That's what counts.

"But, I have tried to improve on other aspects of my game."

That has been noted - and appreciated - by Lennon, who stuck by Stokes, even when he was not finding the net with the regularity expected of a front man in the Hoops.

"I was on fire at the start of the season and then I went through a spell where I couldn't buy a goal," reflected the man who has propelled himself back into the Republic of Ireland squad.

"But the performances were there. I felt I was playing well and bringing a lot to the team.

"The gaffer had asked me to become more of a team player, and I feel I've shown that this season."

Stokes knows it will have to be the same again next term if he is to retain his place.

And he is looking even further ahead, to the day when there is a Rangers presence in the top division to spice things up.

Stokes said: "I think it will be good for the whole of Scottish football when they get back to the top flight.

"I'm sure there will be Celtic fans and other people out there who don't agree.

"But, I think it can only benefit Scottish football when they do get back up.

"For the time being, it's a good chance for the other teams to try and compete in the cup competitions and improve their squads."

Football

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