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Anthony Stokes of Celtic Photo by: Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

Sports Digest: Anthony Stokes soars for surging Celtic

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Anthony Stokes of Celtic Photo by: Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images

Anthony Stokes will be rewarded with a lucrative new contract after scoring in the 5-0 win over Hibs on Sunday that moved Celtic ever closer to the Scottish title.

As financial problems continue to cripple Rangers, beaten 1-0 at home by Kilmarnock on Saturday, Celtic are within sight of the Championship trophy.

The Bhoys are now 17 points clear of their Glasgow rivals after Rangers were deducted 10 points for going into administration.

Stokes played a huge part in their latest win as he began the Easter Road rout that also featured goals from Gary Hooper (two), Charlie Mulgrew and substitute Ki Sung-yueng.

“That’s Anthony’s best game under me since we brought him in and I couldn’t be more pleased with him today,” said boss Neil Lennon after his side’s 18th straight win.

“I will review all the contracts at the end of the season but if we get over the line with the championship, he will be at the front of the queue because his contribution has been fantastic.

“He has been a bit frustrated at being in and out of the team at times and I can understand that -- the kid just wants to play -- but he has set a standard today, that’s for sure.”

Stokes himself is delighted with the talk of a new deal after falling foul of Lennon on more than one occasion.

“Listen, I have never been happier at a club,” said the Irish striker.

“I have another season after this and then an option and I can’t see myself playing for anyone else for a long time, if the offer is on the table.

“I am obviously delighted that I scored and got back in the team and I was happy with my contribution. I want to play every game but I know it’s not going to be like that. I have to take my chances when I am back in the team like I did today.”

Celtic may be assured the title after recent problems at Rangers, but Lennon won’t allow his team to become complacent and Stokes agrees.

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“We are not thinking about them, honestly,” he said. “We are not thinking about anything that’s going on over there, we are just focusing on ourselves and if you look at the games that we have played over the last few weeks you will see that.”

Irishman Pat Fenlon, a self-confessed Celtic fan, has his own problems to worry about as manager at relegation threatened Hibs.

“I don’t think you can forget about where we are in the table, we have to analyze it and see how we improve,” said the former Bohs boss.

“We have a massive game on Wednesday and we have to get the players up for that game and focusing on winning that game. They have to realize where we are and the position we are in.”

Lennon, meanwhile, has condemned the suggestion that Celtic’s prospective title win has been devalued by the financial problems at Rangers.

“There will be no devaluing a title win, regardless of what goes on elsewhere, because it is nothing to do with our club, nothing to do with these players,” said Lennon.

“If people want to point the finger if -- and it’s a big if -- we win the title then I will have plenty to say about devaluing titles, don’t worry about that.

“I don’t know the ins and outs and I don’t think many people do and until we get to some sort of conclusion and get the answers there is no point pointing fingers.

“But it is obviously a very difficult time for the people at the club (Rangers). For a club of that stature to be in this situation is a nonsense really, absolutely nonsense.”

McClean’s Call

Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni has finally recognized James McClean’s form with Sunderland and called the Derry-born youngster into his squad.

McClean, signed from Derry City last summer and capped at underage level by Northern Ireland, could now make his Irish debut in the friendly with the Czech Republic at the Aviva Stadium on Wednesday, February 29.

Derby midfielder Paul Green has also been called up as Trapattoni extended his squad to 26 players for the first friendly of the year.

McClean celebrated by watching Derry City beat Distillery in the Setanta Cup during a short trip back home.

“The call-up came as a major shock to me. I certainly wasn’t expecting it as I wasn’t included in the original squad,” McClean told the Irish Sun.

“But I’m not complaining, I’m just delighted and I can’t wait for the opportunity. It’s another dream come true for me. I left Derry City to join Sunderland last summer and it’s really worked out for me so far.

“To have been called-up for the friendly international in the Aviva Stadium is another big step. To be honest, it’s come about very quickly, but I don’t see that as a problem.

“I basically see the opportunity as a call-up, my first at international level and while I would be absolutely thrilled to get an opportunity to play, I think it’s very important that I be involved in the squad.

“I’m happy with that and meeting the players is another big thing for me. I’ve already met a few of them since joining Sunderland but I’m anxious to get to know them all.”

McClean won’t get excited about any European Championship prospects ahead of his first involvement with the Republic squad.

“I’ve been involved in a rollercoaster ride over the past six or seven months, I have thoroughly enjoyed the experience and long may it continue,” he added.

“To go to the Euros with Ireland would be out of this world for me but, to be perfectly honest, I’m not even thinking about that at the moment.

“My thoughts are on meeting up with the Irish international team. Meeting players I have watched on television and admired playing for their clubs and at international level. This is the first step on the international stage and I’m not looking beyond that.”

Quinn Quits

Former Irish international Niall Quinn has decided to quit his role as club ambassador at Sunderland to return home and concentrate on his family and business interests outside football.

Quinn had quit his role as club chairman in October 2011 to concentrate on developing the club internationally.

“I’ve had the most amazing six years and it gives me a huge sense of pride to see where Sunderland is today,” said Quinn.

“Sunderland is in an incredibly fortunate position to have a hugely talented team of people leading the football club right now.

“There is a tremendous amount of energy about the place and the board and the executive management team are a dynamic and committed group, who hold the best interests of the club at the core of all they do.

“Everything is in place for Sunderland to really make a statement, which was always my aim. From a football perspective, securing the services of Martin O’Neill has been an absolute highlight.

“In Martin we have a man that understands the region, the club and the unique place it holds in the lives of its supporters and I am confident that he will harness the immense passion that exists here and take us to new heights.

“As for the great Sunderland fans, I would like to thank them for the trust they placed in me. Back in 2006 I had no business experience and little formal education and yet the fans backed me and believed in what I was trying to do.”

Keane’s Future

Robbie Keane has left the door open on a return to the Premier League as his loan spell at Aston Villa comes to an end.

Keane will make his final Villa appearance this weekend before going back to the LA Galaxy in the U.S. ahead of the European Championships.

“There’s been talk about me staying on at Villa but, at the end of the day, Galaxy are my parent club and, first and foremost, I have to respect them,” said the 31-year-old forward.

“In March, they have some big games -- there is the start of the new league season and they have a quarterfinal in their Champions League.

“I’ve enjoyed my spell here at Villa. It’s a great club but it was my choice to go to the States. I could have stayed in the Premier League for a few more years but I didn’t.

“When I go back to LA, it could be completely different. At this moment in time I can’t tell what will happen. It’s a case of watch this space.

“But people have seen over the years with the clubs I’ve been at, how quickly I leave if I don’t think I fit in. Once I get something in my head I make a decision fairly quickly and stick to it.”

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