Belfast Telegraph

Hughes thrilled to see Butland back in top form

Mark Hughes believes Jack Butland is already back to his best after the Stoke stopper kept a clean sheet in front of England boss Gareth Southgate in just his second game since returning from a 13-month injury lay-off.

Butland twice denied Andre Ayew, once from an overhead kick, and used his leg to thwart Manuel Lanzini as the Potters recorded a 0-0 draw with West Ham in their goalkeeper's first home appearance since March 2016.

It was while playing for the Three Lions in Germany that month that Butland fractured his ankle and two further setbacks kept the 24-year-old sidelined until his comeback at Swansea last weekend.

Southgate, who had swerved the Manchester derby to watch rugby league on Thursday, will have been encouraged by Butland's performance ahead of England's games with Scotland and France in June and Hughes knows his priority is to be his country's number one once more.

"When you have have got dominance sometimes the opposition can break and make chances, and you need a top-class keeper to make match-defining saves, and that is what Jack did," Hughes said after the stalemate at the bet365 Stadium.

"All top clubs need keepers like Jack. There have been a couple of false dawns. It has taken 12 months to get him back and we are all delighted he is showing the form he did prior to the injury.

"Jack enjoys the England set-up. He had just broken in at senior level but first things first - we are just two games into his return.

"We were caught out just prior to the start of the season when he broke down again. Clearly his ambition is to be the number one keeper for England. Gareth knows him and I am sure the reason he was here today was to see him. I think he was his captain in the Under-21 set-up."

The point moved Stoke up to the 40-point mark while West Ham are only one away from such a figure after an afternoon when they needed Adrian's brilliant one-handed save to deny Saido Berahino a maiden Stoke goal, and his first for anyone in 427 days.

The Hammers are eight points above the drop zone, though that margin could be trimmed to five again if Swansea win on Sunday, and Bilic is not prepared to declare safety as a certainty ahead of contests with Tottenham, Liverpool and Burnley.

"We need more points, it may be enough," Bilic argued.

"We don't want to come into the last game of the season with the radio on and keep asking 'what is the score there?'. We would love to avoid it.

"We are not panicking but we are not safe. Nine points to play for. We need more points."

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