Neil Lennon's challenge to Celtic star Anthony Stokes

NEIL LENNON has thrown down the gauntlet to Anthony Stokes to make a case for being offered a new contract at Celtic.

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Neil Lennon has challenged Anthony Stokes to make a case for being offered a new deal at Celtic. Picture: Stewart Attwood
Neil Lennon has challenged Anthony Stokes to make a case for being offered a new deal at Celtic. Picture: Stewart Attwood

The Republic of Ireland striker reminded everyone what he can bring to the table with two goals in the 6-2 rout of Dundee United.

It was only his second start since being sidelined for five months with an ankle injury picked up in a pre-season friendly.

The impressive goals could not have been better timed as Celtic are preparing to sit down with the player's agent and discuss his future.

Stokes' current contract is up in the summer, though the Parkhead club hold a further 12-month option.

That means he is not free to speak to any other clubs at the moment, but could still be cut loose at the end of the season.

Stokes' off-field behaviour has raised doubts Celtic will want to extend his stay.

But Lennon is reluctant to see him go because, as everyone was reminded at the weekend, he is not only capable of scoring goals, but makes the likes of Gary Hooper and Kris Commons play even better.

The manager, who bought him from Hibs for £1.2million in 2010, said: "That was probably Anthony's best 90 minutes for a year-and-a-half. If he keeps playing like that, I'm sure there will be an offer on the table."

At the moment, a meeting to discuss a new contract has yet to be scheduled, but Lennon is confident this will happen.

He said: "Eventually, down the line, there will be (a meeting). We will have a look at it in a few weeks, no doubt."

The problem Bhoy's immediate challenge is to use his weekend performance as a launchpad.

And when asked if he believes a fit-again Stokes can now kick on, Lennon replied: "I hope so. He has been an important player.

"There have been inconsistencies in his game, but he is only 24, even though it feels like he has been around for a long time.

"When he puts his mind to it, he can be a really good player. He is a goalscorer, as he showed again at the weekend, and him and Gary Hooper complement one another very well.

"I thought the three of them up front, Kris Commons, Gary and Anthony, were all great against Dundee United."

They combined to help secure an emphatic win to push Celtic 18 points clear in the title race, and Lennon reflected: "We wanted to re-affirm our position as the best team in the country – and I think we've done that."

Despite losing two goals, Fraser Forster played a key role in the victory, saving a spot-kick from Jon Daly when the score was still 2-1.

Lennon reckons his keeper will take a huge lift from that, and said: "He has not looked himself since he came back from his injury. But, he looked far more like it on Saturday.

"He has made another penalty save at an important time, then made a great save when United broke away at 4-1 which kept the three-goal gap.

"I am sure he will be very pleased with his contribution, just as I am."

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