Tom English: Stokes, Hearts and uncomfortable behaviour

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland

You don't need the full gamut of stats to know of Anthony Stokes' worth as a striker in Scotland, but here they are anyway.

In his time in this country, with Falkirk, Hibs and Celtic, he's had 190 starts (plus 38 appearances off the bench). He has scored 114 goals (just six of those were penalties) and assisted in 64 others.

It is rare that a guy with that kind of artillery in his locker becomes available on loan in the Premiership, but he's up for grabs until the end of the season.

Given those numbers, no wonder that Mixu Paatelainen's tongue has been hanging out of his head for a few weeks. Stokes is precisely the kind of player he needs if Dundee United are to stage any kind of act of defiance at the bottom of the Premiership.

Up in Inverness, John Hughes hasn't so much fluttered his eye-lashes in Stokes' direction as give him the full come-hither routine. Stokes is not returning his calls, so Hughes has been left to do his serenading in public.

It has been a bit desperate, but entirely understandable because Hughes knows better than anybody what Stokes can do for his team.

Hughes has applied the defibrillator to Stokes' career on two separate occasions - when he took him on loan from Arsenal to Falkirk and when he signed him for Hibs after the striker had endured joyless spells at Sunderland and on loan at Sheffield United and Crystal Palace.

Hughes' management worked wonders on Stokes - and Stokes worked wonders for Hughes - and it was on his watch at Hibs that the striker got his big move to Celtic. The Dubliner owes the Inverness manager a lot, the least of the debt being the returning of a phone call.

John Hughes (left) and Anthony Stokes
John Hughes (left) says Anthony Stokes has not returned his calls

Stokes is bound for Easter Road and the care of Alan Stubbs. It could prove a good move because Stubbs looks like the kind of manager who understands how to deal with players who have a pretty loose interpretation of what it is to be a good pro, on and off the pitch.

He has turned Jason Cummings around and if Stokes is ready to listen then he might well do the same for him. Stokes is just 27 - old enough to know better but young enough to have some fine years left in him if he can get himself on track.

The player has clouds on his horizon that he needs to clear. He faces a trial in Dublin on charges of an alleged assault on an Elvis impersonator at a nightclub in the city in June 2013.

His ability to score goals in Scotland is beyond question. His judgement in other areas of his life is far less certain, however.

As a footballer, he has a future but only if he can rid himself of the attitude that has seen him fail to kick a ball for Celtic since late August. The sight of Nadir Ciftci and Carlton Cole ahead of him in the pecking order at Parkhead should both embarrass and inspire him. In ability terms, he's better than the pair of them and nearly everybody at the club would accept that.

It's what's termed "the other stuff" that has held him back. Former Celtic boss Neil Lennon first mentioned "the other stuff" more than three years ago and the fact that we're still talking about it now shows that Stokes is slow to learn his lesson.

To avoid the grim prospect of looking back on his career with a ton of regret the player needs to start making better decisions, on the pitch and off.

He looks to have made a good one in committing to Hibs for the rest of the season. Everybody knows that he has the talent to be a success (again) in Edinburgh.

It's his temperament that will be on trial in the coming months.

Hearts getting into the opposition's heads

A narrative is steadily building up around Hearts' style of play. It's euphemistically called "robust". That's the way Mark McGhee, the Motherwell manager, termed it on Friday.

McGhee - hardly a delicate flower in his own playing days - might well have meant it as a compliment, but on the back of comments last week from Jonny Hayes of Aberdeen and, before that, Murray Davidson of St Johnstone, it added to a picture of Hearts as the Premiership's pre-eminent cloggers.

Davidson went even as far as quoting the number of fouls Hearts were supposed to have committed in their five games before they met St Johnstone last month.

Peter Pawlett (centre) and Pallardo
Hearts have had some physical encounters this season

He reckoned it was about 70. The image of the St Johnstone boys sitting in front of the television with their notepads counting the indiscretions is an amusing one. You might say that whatever Hearts are doing, or not doing, they've definitely got into the heads of their nearest rivals for second place in the league.

The notion of Hearts as bully boys who muscle their way to victory is a distortion. They're physical, of course. Why shouldn't they be? They have some big men mixed in with some wee guys. What's wrong with that?

They're hungry, as evidenced in their first half against Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup last weekend. That was a thunderous opening 45 minutes from Robbie Neilson's team. Throughout the match they looked like a side who wanted it more than the Dons and who were prepared to work harder for it.

Do they take it to the edge sometimes? Of course. What supporter of any team in the world wouldn't want their players to show such commitment.

But they can play. Let's not be daft. The feeling here is that there's more improvement in this Hearts team, but right now, only Celtic have scored more goals in the league than Neilson' side.

You can do anything you like with statistics, but in terms of yellow cards dished out in the Premiership this season, Hearts have two players on the list of the top 20 whereas Hamilton and Kilmarnock have three.

Their foul count - if it's higher than the rest - can be an illustration of their desire. The sight of a few of their rivals passing comment on it is an indication that they're rattling a few cages. That's no bad thing either.

Uncomfortable buck passing

When Bernard Higgins, assistant chief constable of Police Scotland, urged football fans in this country to report anything that makes them feel "uncomfortable" at matches it might have taken about a minute - if that - for people to start taking him up on the offer.

Had he given details of a hotline then the thing would have been jammed from now until eternity with justified complaints (some against the police force itself, no doubt) and others of a somewhat less serious nature. "Our back four make me very uncomfortable, sort it!"

Higgins made the point, as many have done before him, that he'd like to see football fans reporting unsavoury behaviour in real-time. If they see somebody with flares, attract the attention of a steward or the police. If they hear sectarian singing, do the same.

There is more than an element of "Do as we say, not as we do" about this. Did it really require fan intervention to identify the buffoons in the Celtic support who set off smoke bombs at Stranraer last weekend? No.

Did it really require a disgusted Celtic fan to point out the morons who sang about the IRA in the same match? No, it didn't. If the stewards were paying attention they would have seen and heard it for themselves and would have done what the assistant chief constable is now asking football fans to do.

Namely, telling the miscreants to behave - or else.

Similarly at Ibrox, where many, many thousands sang The Billy Boys during Rangers post-Christmas game against Hibs at Ibrox. Are the police seriously saying that they needed embarrassed Rangers fans to tell them what was going on?

There is an element of buck-passing. Traditionally, the Scottish FA and the SPFL (and before them, the SPL) have done absolutely nothing about sectarian chanting. No fines, no suspensions, no point deductions, despite the SFA saying, years back, that they wanted a policy of heavy punishment for repeat offenders.

Stewards and police routinely stand by and allow "uncomfortable" behaviour to unfold, reluctant, understandably, to go in amongst the fans to stop it. The assistant police constable is now asking the fans to do, more or less, the job that others are there to do.

Any supporter would be brave - and would be commended - if they reported unruly behaviour on the spot, but it's not their responsibility. That lies with the people running the game, not those paying to go and watch it.