Hibs’ recent poor run might have coincided with the arrival of Anthony Stokes but Alan Stubbs has insisted he retains faith in the Celtic loan player’s partnership with Jason Cummings.
With Hibs having won only three of the nine games he has played since his much-publicised arrival from Celtic, it is difficult to claim Stokes’ move has been a success to date.
Stokes has scored only twice since re-joining Hibs in January. Cummings, Stokes’ previously prolific current strike partner, has scored just three times since the pair linked up.
Their latest goalless performance came in the high-stakes environment of Sunday’s League Cup final defeat by Ross County, prompting some to again question the strikers’ compatibility. But Stubbs has promised not to “desert” the players.
“Everyone is entitled to an opinion,” said Stubbs. “I work with them day in, day out. And I’m afraid to say they’re not the first strikers to go through a spell where they haven’t scored for a few games.
“Every striker goes through spells like this. Tey have to keep putting performances in. They have to keep believing in what got Jason his 15, 16, 17 goals.”
Stokes’ acquisition from Celtic was hailed by nearly everyone as being a potential game-changer in the race for the title. But Rangers have only stretched their lead at the top in the weeks since and now hold a 17-point lead over Hibs, who have slipped to third place behind Falkirk.
Even Stubbs conceded yesterday that Rangers cannot now be caught.
But Stubbs has backed Stokes and Cummings to come good together in what is left of a season in which Hibs still have everything to play for, starting with tonight’s Scottish Cup quarter-final replay with Inverness Caledonian Thistle. But the head coach accepted their worth as a strike partnership will only be gauged in goals.
“Stokesy’s ability is not in question,” he added. “They’ll hit it off. Nothing changes, when I brought them in everybody was excited. Sometimes it takes a little bit of time.
“And it’s not just about Stokesy and Jason. We have James Keatings there, we have Chris Dagnall, we have Farid El Alagui.
“Listen, I am not going to sit here for the next six weeks saying they need to keep playing well. Yes, they have to score goals. They’re the same as the rest of the starting XI, they have to perform.
“But I will back them, 100 per cent. I don’t easily desert my players just because they have gone a few games without scoring. When you have got quality it is always just a matter of time.”
Of Stokes’ form specifically, he added: “He wasn’t match sharp when he came here and he’s had a run of games now. I’d rather an individual had a mixed period now than in the run-in we’ve got.”
Stubbs was quick to back all his players yesterday in the wake of Sunday’s disappointing Hampden defeat.
He praised Liam Fontaine’s eloquent statement, posted on Twitter, where the defender held up his hands after making the mistake that gifted County their late winner.
“I have spoken to him because I think the message was a measure of Liam as a person,” said Stubbs. “I thought it was a bit of class, what he put
on. It does not surprise whatsoever.”