ANTHONY Stokes cannot help but smile as he recalls his first memory of crossing paths with Neil Lennon, with the pair at each other’s throats during a feisty fixture between Celtic and Falkirk.

It was an appropriately acrimonious beginning to a relationship which has never been sedate. However, Stokes is adamant there is nowhere he would rather be than Easter Road, working under one of the most influential figures in his varied career.

Lennon coached Stokes at Parkhead during the striker’s most prolific spell, scoring 68 goals during the Northern Irishman’s four years at the helm in Glasgow’s East End.

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No manager is a bigger advocate of Stokes’ undeniable quality than Lennon, but that does mean there is nobody more critical when he slips below those standards, on or off the pitch.

“I remember he got sent off playing against me when I was with Falkirk. That was the first time I remember meeting him,” Stokes laughed about their first clash in 2006. “I’d watched him as a kid growing but that was me actually coming up against him. Was it my fault or his? A bit of both. I think the sending off was a bit harsh on him to be honest!”

The former Celtic skipper was dismissed after being accused of diving to win a penalty, provoking Stokes’ fury as Celtic claimed a 1-0 triumph.

It would not be the last time there was fireworks between the pair. Now reunited in Leith, their latest clash came in November when Lennon sent his marquee attacker home from training following a disagreement and he sat out their next fixture as punishment.

“That was nothing in my opinion,” Stokes said. “As far as I was concerned I didn’t do anything wrong. It was just a misunderstanding. But listen, the gaffer has his own way and, like any manager, once he makes a decision on something he’s not going to change his mind.

“He’s the type of person who will have it out with you and then it’s done, and people respect that. I’m a bit like that myself. I can have an argument with someone but then you move on, there’s no point in dwelling on things

“I know the way he’s going to react sometimes if he’s not happy and you just have to take it on the chin, but the gaffer has always been very reasonable with me. That is one of things that sets him apart. He knows how to man-manage individual players and get the best out of them.”

Given that trophy-laden spell at Celtic – they won six major competitions together there – nobody knows the levels demanded by Lennon better than Stokes. And any notion that coaching Hibs, with more modest expectations, would see him reduce those lofty standards is dismissed.

“He understands that we are the newly-promoted team, but his expectations are still very high,” Stokes said. “As a player, he was driven too. At Leicester he won two cups [League Cup 1997, 2000], and then came to Celtic and played in games in Europe. He has just brought that same mentality that he had as a player into management – and we’ll be striving to win the Scottish Cup again.”

For all the tumult and demands, Stokes has found a home in Edinburgh following a miserable period of his career which saw him frozen out at Celtic by Ronny Deila, endure a dreadful stint at Blackburn and become embroiled in controversy off the field.

“I feel settled and happy. That’s the reason I came back,” he said. “I could have gone to other clubs for more money but I wanted to go back to Hibs. I know the environment and know all the players.”