Anthony Stokes has rediscovered his potency in front of goal after overcoming a case of festive fatigue by embarking on a gruelling gym schedule.
Now the Hibs striker is hoping his return to form has come just in time to torment Hearts in tomorrow’s Edinburgh derby.
Prior to his fine header in Saturday’s 2-1 triumph over Ross County, Stokes had failed to find the net for Hibs in December and, more alarmingly for the Ireland internationalist, his sharpness, acceleration and fitness were simply not what they should have been.
The 29-year-old was honest enough to concede that he had been off the pace in recent weeks during a meeting with the club’s medical staff, led by head of sports science and medicine Nathan Ring and strength and conditioning coach Paul Green, and he was swiftly given extra work to do.
From squats to cardio, Stokes put in the additional hours throughout last week and arguably turned in his most complete display of the season against County. Allied with the fact he tends to rise to the big occasion, that could be ominous for Hearts ahead of the game at Tynecastle.
“I felt really good at the weekend,” explained Stokes. “Last week, I actually went to see the fitness coaches at Hibs because over the last couple of weeks I just hadn’t felt like I had the sharpness or fitness about me that I needed.
“After that, I’ve been doing a bit of extra work in the gym and after training – and it paid off against County.
“I felt as if I had a spring in my step. So that’s something that I need to maintain. I was doing gym work, some squats, some stand-ups off the boards, a bit of fitness work as well. The previous two or three weeks, I felt like I didn’t have a kick to get away from players.
“Obviously it was a tough period for us, even mentally, but I felt a bit fatigued going into the 60th minute of game. I wasn’t sure what it was. Maybe I just needed that extra bit of work.”
Stokes’ belief in his own conditioning is matched by his confidence in the Hibs squad as they prepare to face Hearts.
Edinburgh has been green-and-white of late, with the Easter Road outfit unbeaten in eight fixtures against Hearts, stretching back to August 2014, and having knocked their old foes out of the Scottish Cup in each of the last two campaigns. Moreover, they currently boast a five-point lead over their local rivals in the Premiership.
So while Stokes accepts that derbies are rarely fluent, predictable affairs, he reckons the better team should win. That side, he asserts, is Hibs.
“It’s been mainly Hibs for a while now,” he continued. “I think we have to back ourselves – because the league table doesn’t lie. Our form has been good, one blip at Aberdeen aside and after the performance and result at the weekend, everything looks a lot brighter.
“Derbies tend not to have much free-flowing football, they are all about desire. But the better players, nine times out of ten, still come out on top and I fancy our squad, I really do.”
Nothing would bring Stokes greater joy than puncturing that new-found feelgood factor and silencing Tynecastle, which hosts its first derby since the new main stand saw the capacity rise to north of 20,000.
“Scoring in front of the new main stand? That would be nice,” smiled Stokes. “Athough I’ll take a goal at either end of the park, to be fair. Tynecastle is good. I’ve always enjoyed playing there, it’s always a great atmosphere. I get pelters, but I don’t mind that.”