CELTIC hat-trick hero Anthony Stokes has urged his manager Neil Lennon to extend his tenure at the club for as long as possible.
Lennon had revealed in Sunday newspaper interviews that he had indulged in “a bit of soul-searching” following his team’s Scottish Cup exit to Aberdeen last week, and admitted that there have been times when he pondered whether he had taken Celtic as far as he possibly could with last season’s run to the last 16 of the Champions League.
After yesterday’s 3-0 win over St Johnstone, Lennon sought to distance himself from any suggestion he is considering his future at the club, claiming his remarks had been taken out of context and that he “still has work to do here”.
Stokes, fresh from scoring all three goals in the victory which keeps Lennon on course for a third successive league title win, believes there is still much for the manager to achieve.
“We are just focused on playing for the gaffer,” said the 25-year-old. “Every season, he has improved the squad. He has tried to add to it and has done a tremendous job since he has been here.
“All the players are still playing for him. There is a lot to play for this season. We want to keep this run going and stay unbeaten as long as possible.
“Of course we hope he is here for the long term. He has brought almost every player in the current squad to the club. I think we all owe the gaffer something one way or the other and we want to see him around as long as possible.”
Celtic have now won 22 and drawn three of their 25 Premiership fixtures this season, and Stokes believes they are capable of completing the 38-match campaign unbeaten.
“I don’t see why we can’t do it,” added the Irish international striker. “We will just try to maintain the performances we have produced in the league so far and give it a good go.
“We will just take it game by game, I think. That’s the way the gaffer always approaches these things. That’s what we will do till the end of the season.
“It was a good all-round performance today. We needed to bounce back after last week and we did that very well today.
“That’s my third hat-trick for Celtic and it’s always nice to get them,” added the Dubliner, who scored three hat-tricks during his 16-goal loan contribution to Falkirk in 2006/07.
“I haven’t been prolific this season, but that’s four in the last two games so hopefully I can keep going. We played a slightly different formation today, with Leigh Griffiths and myself up front and Kris Commons playing in the hole behind. Throughout the season, we’ve been playing with just me up top.
“Today definitely gave me a bit more space, you could see it with a couple of the goals when we were dragging players around the place.”
St Johnstone manager Tommy Wright had no complaints with a defeat which leaves his team just one point ahead of Hibs in the battle for a top-six finish in the table.
“Celtic were excellent today,” said Wright. “They played very well and kept the ball. They would have been hurting from losing to Aberdeen last week so it was no surprise that they played so well.
“I’m not going to criticise my players after coming up against a team like that. It was as much about how well Celtic did things as it was about us not doing things so well.
“We should have dealt better with Celtic’s first goal and not allowed Virgil van Dijk to come right through the middle of the park. It left us chasing the game - but Celtic were fantastic today.”