Hughes wants permanent Ireland deal

Mark Hughes hopes midfielder Stephen Ireland will join Stoke on a permanent basis.

Last Updated: 20/12/13 at 19:05 Post Comment

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Stephen Ireland: Unlikely to return to A

Stephen Ireland: Unlikely to return to A

The former Manchester City playmaker is at the Britannia Stadium on a season-long loan from Aston Villa, where his contract runs out at the end of the season.

Ireland has impressed in spells so far, particularly with a goal and an assist in this month's 3-2 victory over Chelsea.

Hughes said: "He's done very well for us and we're pleased with what he's producing.

"He's out of contract at the end of the season and it's fair to say I don't think Stephen thinks his future lies at Aston Villa. He will be moving somewhere, ideally it would be to us."

Asked whether talks had taken place, Hughes said: "Only in passing, there's been no official talks as yet.

"Stephen's enjoying his time here and it's up to him to keep on playing well and impressing everybody here, which he has done up to this point."

Ireland will be ineligible when Stoke meet Villa at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday, and Hughes faces being without both of his first-choice centre-halves.

Robert Huth is definitely out while captain Ryan Shawcross picked up a slight groin problem during Wednesday's Capital One Cup defeat by Manchester United.

"Ryan hasn't trained yet," said Hughes. "We're going to give him as long as we can. He'll get a fitness test in the morning.

"We've got lots of games coming up and if it means he just misses this one and we have him for the full Christmas period and beyond then so be it."

Huth had initially been ruled out for three or four weeks following minor knee surgery at the start of this month but Hughes revealed he will definitely miss the whole of the Christmas period.

The Stoke boss said: "He did really well the first couple of weeks. His progress has slowed a little bit this last week so we've just got to make sure we're going at the right pace and we're not going to push him too hard.

"We need to make sure the knee is responding well to the work that we're giving him. Marc Wilson's come in and done really well so we can afford Robert more time than possibly we thought."

If Shawcross is unavailable, either Marc Muniesa or Geoff Cameron is likely to join Wilson in the centre, while strikers Peter Crouch (groin) and Jonathan Walters (ankle) are both slight doubts.

Villa sit a point and two places ahead of Stoke in midtable, with both teams struggling to find the net.

Coincidentally, the sides have both failed to score in three of their last four games, winning the other one 3-2.

Christian Benteke was the key figure in Villa's successful fight against relegation last season with 23 goals but he has not scored for three months.

Hughes said: "It's maybe second-season syndrome. It's probably a consequence of him bursting onto the scene and not too many of us knew too much about him.

"He's an outstanding football player and it's taken a little bit of time for everybody to come to terms with his ability and what you do to try to stop his effectiveness. But he's a quality player and at some point he'll start scoring again.

"I think there was some suggestion that he might be dropped but I wouldn't put too much stall by that. He's pivotal to how they want to play, he's a focal point, and even if he's not scoring, he's certainly still of value to Aston Villa's team."

Stoke have picked up five points from three games since a 4-0 thrashing by Everton and are unbeaten at home in the league since September.

"It's an important game for us," said Hughes.

"We were disappointed in midweek to go out of the League Cup obviously but there's games one after the other and we've got an opportunity to get over the disappointment.

"We want to keep our decent run going in the Premier League and keep our home form going."


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