Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

Don't dare devalue Celtic's title, says Anthony Stokes

We are the champions: Celtic's Anthony Stokes and Liam Henderson show off some of the club merchandise celebrating their Scottish Premiership title triumph

Celtic striker Anthony Stokes insists their Scottish Premiership form should not be underestimated despite the one-sided nature of the title race.

Celtic wrapped up their third consecutive title with seven games to spare when they beat Partick Thistle 5-1 at Firhill on Wednesday.

The victory was their 19th in 20 league games and left them with an unassailable 26-point lead over Aberdeen.

And Stokes feels their achievement is still impressive despite the absence of Rangers from the top flight.

"It's massive," the Irishman said. "It's never easy winning games week in, week out, the gaffer tells us that before every game. We can only beat what's in front of us and at the same time keep trying to improve.

"At the end of the day, we have won the league. As the gaffer says, we are just here to impress ourselves and the fans and do the best we can."

Celtic have already accrued five points more than last season's 79-point total and despite failing to reach a cup quarter-final or the Champions League knockout stages, Stokes feels they have improved rather than the competition weakening.

"Aberdeen have been very strong and all the teams have been improving, but we just concentrate on ourselves," the Republic of Ireland international said.

"Every year we try to push forward and I think this year in the league we have been outstanding, very consistent, but we were slightly disappointed with the cups and Europe.

"That's something we need to improve on, but take nothing away from the league form, it has been outstanding."

Celtic lost seven league games last season, but their only defeat this term came after Virgil van Dijk was sent off early on a visit to Aberdeen.

"Last year we dropped a lot of points and were nowhere near as consistent," said Stokes, who has hit 14 goals this season.

"This year it has just clicked. There have been a couple of players come in and improved the squad. It's a young squad and a lot of the players are developing and improving. Hopefully that's the case over the coming years."

Stokes believes manager Neil Lennon deserves immense credit for keeping the team on top form despite losing key players Kelvin Wilson, Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper in the summer.

"He has been outstanding," the former Sunderland and Hibernian striker said.

"He has built his own squad here and you can't praise him highly enough. He has had enough to deal with up here as well. With that in the background as well, it's been phenomenal what he's done.

"I'm sure everyone at the club including myself is just hoping he stays here as long as possible."

Celtic's on-field celebrations were cut short following a pitch invasion at Firhill but they will perform a lap of honour at Parkhead after their game against Ross County on Saturday.

"It will be nice to celebrate at home in front of our own fans," Stokes said. "The way things turned out last night wasn't ideal but sometimes the occasion just takes over with people."

Meanwhile Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell has admitted that Scottish football needs to be more competitive.

With Rangers still experiencing financial difficulties ahead of their move into the second tier of the Scottish game, Celtic fans are predicting their run will stretch to a record 10 titles in a row.

And Lawwell admits there needs to be change.

"There are challenges ahead in terms of creating meaningful games," he said.

"No question, that is one of the challenges that Scottish football faces.

"I think we are realising that as a nation and we need to find some form of solution."

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