There will have been a sense of surprise for some Celtic fans when they read Anthony Stokes’ name in the Bhoys starting line-up for the Scottish League Cup final.
Many will have expected the sort of poor display that has seen him become unpopular amongst so many of the Celtic faithful, but that wasn’t the case at Hampden Park.
Whilst Stokes’ performance was far from an eye-catching Man of the Match display, there were signs of improvement in the 2-0 win, the first silverware of Ronny Deila’s reign as Celtic manager.
Playing wide on the left of the three players behind Leigh Griffiths, the Republic of Ireland international featured sporadically and played some neat passes before playing a major role in Celtic’s first goal.
Anthony Stokes starts!!!!!!! I do despair. We will be lucky to take this to Extra Time.— Paul R. Gibson (@DMYeti) March 15, 2015
The 26-year-old was industrious in the build-up, going after the ball once his initial cross was blocked to deliver another for Kris Commons to hit towards goal, and score at the second time of asking after Radoslaw Cierzniak pushed the ball onto the post.
The biggest failing of Stokes' was not getting more into the game once Sean Dillon had been sent off 11 minutes into the second-half. While he featured in spells, it was no more than he did in the first half, highlighting his lack of threat from a wide position, especially when it came to shooting, with all his efforts going off target.
There were also some of the same issues from previous games. Even with Commons on the pitch, Stokes was on corner duty, and despite hitting a couple of dangerous ones into the box early on, they started going to the first man in an orange shirt thereafter.
The reality of the situation is that if this final had been against any other team, Stokes wouldn’t have started, and when Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong are both available he will probably – and rightfully – return to the bench, having not done enough to warrant a continued place in the starting line-up.
This performance was a step in the right direction from Stokes but he has gone from poor to average, from a 4 to 6 out of 10. Now Celtic have their first of three potential trophies they need players that can perform consistently and to a higher standard than Stokes is currently offering.
He may well get another chance in the third installment between these two teams, but there is plenty of improving to be done for Stokes to prove his worth in this Celtic squad.