ANTHONY Stokes has backed Celtic's plan to build from a position of strength and sign four or five new players this summer, almost certainly including another striker.
Stokes, pictured, has scored 14 times in 39 appearances this season and has become manager Neil Lennon's first choice out-and-out striker, albeit Kris Commons has outscored him with 26 so far in the current campaign. Lennon has said he intends to bring in a handful of new faces with a view to empowering Celtic for a stronger assault on next season's Champions League, as well as performing far better in the two domestic cups. That plans was fully supported yesterday by Stokes.
Celtic's attacking options include Stokes, Commons, Leigh Griffiths, Teemu Pukki, Derk Boerrigter and Amido Balde. Signing another forward - clearly with a view to them being instant first-team material - inevitably would put pressure on Stokes, but he said he was fully behind Lennon's plans.
"I genuinely think it's good for Celtic," said the 25-year-old. "It's good for the squad and the club. It perks everyone up and you know you need to be at your best. If you get opportunities in games, you have to take them. I think competition is good for both the squad and the club as a whole.
"I'm not saying the quality here isn't enough, but every transfer window we seem to sign players and the gaffer has done an excellent job. We've had to let players go - you look at Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama - and the gaffer has improved the squad. He's brought in boys like Virgil and Stefan [Johansen] in midfield, who is having a massive impact. At a club like this, they are always going to strengthen the squad."
Two of Stokes's 14 goals came in the 5-1 rout of Partick Thistle which took Celtic over the line on Wednesday night, confirming them as champions for the 45th time and the third in a row.
Aberdeen chairman Stewart Milne and manager Derek McInnes have both talked of trying to claw back Celtic's lead next season - their club is currently second, 26 points behind - but Stokes said the aim at Celtic Park was to not only win four-in-a-row next season but also land a treble and compete more respectably in the Champions League.
"Aberdeen have a good base if you look at their starting eleven and they have a very strong squad," added Stokes. "They have some good young players as well. If they can add to their squad, I'm sure they will improve no end.
"But this year, the key has been us. We've been so consistent domestically in the league. Some of the performances have been outstanding. The boys at the back have been rock-solid.
"Over the course of the league, we have been the best team by a mile. We have just let ourselves down in the two domestic cup competitions."
Celtic went out of the League Cup to Morton and the Scottish Cup to Aberdeen, both at Parkhead. "It was disappointing, but all we could do was just focus on the league," continued Stokes. "Next season the ambition is to win the treble. That's always an ambition. We go out to try to win every competition we are involved in. We let ourselves down in the domestic cups this year."
Stokes scored 20 and 21 goals in his first two seasons with Celtic (and only seven in his third) but he said he had become a more rounded player in this, his fourth campaign at the club. "I think I have. When I was at Hibs I scored a lot of goals but my performances were nowhere near the standard they've been at this year. I think I have had to slightly change my game this season. Obviously, with Leigh coming in it's made things a lot easier up front and especially with Kris in the form he's been in. There are a number of factors in it, but I feel I have improved as a player."
Celtic had intended to celebrate in front of their supporters at Firhill but that plan was aborted when a couple of hundred fans invaded the pitch, forcing the team to retreat up the tunnel. A lap of honour will be held after tomorrow's home game against Ross County instead. "With the fans getting a little excited after the game we had to cut the celebrations short," said Stokes. "But we've got a game coming up on Saturday. I'm sure we'll celebrate after that."