ON THE face of it, Anthony Stokes appears to have about as much affinity with Europe as Nigel Farage.
A record of just two goals in 22 European appearances for Celtic does not provide a positive impression of Stokes’s relationship with continental club competition.
But as the Irish striker prepares for tomorrow night’s Europa League meeting with Dinamo Zagreb at Celtic Park, he insists his barren streak does not cause him any concern.
His only European goals came when he notched a brace in the 3-1 Europa League win over Rennes three years ago. Despite drawing a blank in 19 ties since then, he remains largely content with his overall contribution to the Celtic cause.
“I know a massive deal is made about my scoring record in Europe, but I look back on the games I played in the Champions League last season and I felt I played well,” said Stokes.
“You don’t get many chances in games like that. It’s half-chances and you have to take them. It hasn’t happened for me yet. But I won’t get my head down about it. I’ll keep working hard and see what happens.
“I don’t let it get to me. If I miss chances, it is part of being a striker. I’ve had droughts where I’ve gone nine or ten games without scoring and if you let it get into your head you start to suffer from it. It’s nothing to me – I’ll go out and play my normal game on Thursday night.
“Come the end of the season, you look back and are judged on statistics. I’ve always said that at a club like Celtic, any striker needs to be hitting at least 20 goals a season – if not more. But you need to look at it at the end of the season. In my case last season, coming up to Christmas I probably only had seven or eight goals but I hit form towards the end of the season. It’s just the way it happens sometimes.
“During that spell before Christmas, I’d only the seven or eight goals but I thought I was playing some of the best football of my career. Nearer the end of the season, the goals came and I look back on last year very happy with the consistency I showed throughout the season. Goals sometimes take the attention away from the performances but at the end of the season those are what you are judged on.”
He added: “It’s going to be doing me no harm to be scoring European goals. It hasn’t happened yet but I am just trying to keep my form and improve. I’m delighted to be back involved with the Irish squad and I know if I don’t keep my form up for my club I won’t get that opportunity.
“I’ve started the season pretty averagely, I think, and I am looking to improve. The whole squad is. The new manager has come in with his ideas of how he wants to set us up. We are slowly adapting to that, so hopefully we will all benefit.”
After securing a 2-2 draw in Austria against top seeds Red Bull Salzburg in their opening Group D fixture a fortnight ago, Celtic have an opportunity to establish a strong position in their bid to reach the knockout stage when they host Croatian champions Dinamo tomorrow.
“We don’t know too much about them yet,” said Stokes. “We’ve had a brief chat with the gaffer but we will be looking closely at them in the next 48 hours. We will watch a few clips, see how they play and will have a fair idea before the game.
“If we want to progress in the Europa League, our home games could be massive. It’s a big game and we are looking for three points. We played well in Austria and were happy enough with a draw.
“I think we should probably have got a win but it will be a different game against Dinamo. But the home games are huge and we want to kick off with a win.”
With the top tier of Celtic Park not in use and a crowd of perhaps less than 30,000 expected, the match will clearly lack the pizazz of the big Champions League group stage nights Stokes and his team-mates have experienced in previous seasons.
But Stokes, 26, said: “I think that goes out the window when you’re focused on the game.
“It’s a European match at Celtic Park in front of our own fans, so we will be going out there to try and win. It will be no different to anything else and I’m sure the fans will generate a great atmosphere.”
However, the match will be another significant measure of Celtic’s progress under manager Ronny Deila, who has so far struggled to find any consistency of performance by his side.
Stokes admitted: “We are going through a bit of a change with the new gaffer and I’m sure he hasn’t been 100 per cent happy with the performances, but I do think we are gradually getting there and gradually improving. We will keep working hard and trying to get consistency in our performances and see where that takes us.”