ANTHONY Stokes insists he has no need to apologise for his breach of club discipline which saw him left out of the Europa League fixture against Inter Milan at Celtic Park last month.
The Irish forward was dropped by Celtic manager Ronny Deila for the game after returning to training a day later than scheduled from a weekend trip home to Dublin.
Speaking for the first time about the incident, Stokes admitted he found it tough being forced to sit in the stand for the epic 3-3 draw against Inter. But the 26-year-old is adamant he has no regrets over the circumstances which led to his omission.
“No, look, the situation has been dealt with,” said Stokes. “It’s as simple as that. I’ve spoken to the gaffer about it and there’s no issue now.”
Pressed on whether he felt the need to apologise, Stokes replied: “No. Look, I said I spoke to the gaffer about it and that’s it. It’s been dealt with, it’s done.
“There’s nothing more to say. There is a lot of competition for places at Celtic at the minute and even after that (incident), it’s not as if I’ve been a regular in the squad in the past few weeks anyway. I have played in our last two games but I would have liked to have played a little bit better, because I know the situation now with Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven having come into the squad from Dundee United.
“They will be straight back into contention when they are available, so it’s up to me to try and put my stamp down now and keep myself in the team.
“It was difficult being left out against Inter. It’s difficult for me to miss any game as I want to play in every minute of them all. I’ve always said I’m that type of player, I do get a bit grumpy if I’m not playing, but you just need to get your head around it.
“I’ve been here long enough now and I’ve had periods on the sidelines when I’ve not been in the team. You can’t lose heart. You have to work hard in training and just focus on your own game. When you get the opportunities, you have to try and take them.”
Stokes is hoping to complete a full set of domestic winners’ medals at Hampden on Sunday. The League Cup is the only trophy to elude him so far in his four and a half years at Celtic.
The former Hibs player has spent much of the season deployed by Deila in a wide left position in the attacking midfield trio in the manager’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. Stokes has netted just eight goals in 34 appearances so far.
“I haven’t been outstanding since I came back into the team,” he said. “I have been creating and getting into positions to score but I just haven’t scored. I know the goals will come.”
“Sunday would be a good time to start,” added Stokes. “I would rather be playing through the middle scoring goals but it is difficult the way we play just now. There is so much emphasis on getting back and defending and putting in the graft for the team.
“I have been trying to adapt my game to that as well. It has been a bit of a strange season for me. I actually don’t mind playing on the left but you are never going to get the same plaudits as you do playing up front and scoring all the goals. It is different because even when I played up front before, I have always played in a two. If I was to play up front in the current team, I would be on my own and that probably isn’t really my strength. I have just had to adjust.
“The team are doing well and we are still in three competitions. The main thing is the team and helping the team. At the start of the season I was going through a spell where I was doing well. I had plenty of assists and got eight goals from the left, although I maybe should have had more, but there isn’t much I can do about it. I am never going to hit 15-20 goals playing on the left, I don’t think.
“The one thing about the gaffer is that our base for every game is our work rate. It stems from there. The way we are playing is probably tactically a bit different from before.
“There aren’t many spells when we keep possession for maybe 20, 30 passes. It’s always about getting the ball, being direct, swarming them and breaking quickly.
“But it seems to be working. It’s something that was never just going to happen overnight. It just wasn’t going to click. I think there’s been gradual progress throughout the season and I think we’re getting there.”
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