Belfast Telegraph

Loan star Ireland impresses Hughes

Stoke boss Mark Hughes believes Stephen Ireland's match-winning performance against Tranmere was just a tantalising glimpse of what he is capable of.

Ireland marked his first start for the Potters with the opening goal of a 2-0 win over the League One side in the Capital One Cup.

With Peter Crouch's second not coming until the fourth minute of injury time at Prenton Park - with what proved to be the final kick of the game - it was a strike that effectively secured Stoke's place in the last 16 of the competition.

Ireland is hoping to revive his career on a season-long loan at Stoke after falling out of favour at Aston Villa.

The 27-year-old, who enjoyed his best times under Hughes at Manchester City, had not played since January prior to joining the Potters this month and his goal at Tranmere was his first since December 2011.

Hughes said: "Stephen has come in and everybody can see he is an intelligent footballer.

"He understands the game and how to affect the game in a positive manner.

"He took up some great positions in and around the opposition box and when he gets in good areas he will finish. I thought he was excellent.

"But we are still trying to get him up to speed.

"He has missed a lot of senior football. He has not had a lot of game time and it is going to take him a little bit of time to get up to the level I know he is capable of.

"But you saw in the amount of time he had that he is going to be a good player for us."

Ireland, who had made two substitute appearances in the previous two Barclays Premier League games, played for the first hour before being withdrawn.

Hughes hopes he can go on to make a big impact this season but is not planning for him to start against Norwich on Sunday.

Hughes said: "He is not ready yet but he is getting there."

Hughes made seven changes against the Wirral side but his new ethos was much in evidence.

The Welshman has already earned plaudits for the fluid passing style he has introduced at the Britannia Stadium and his side again played it with confidence.

The downside was a lack of cutting edge that they could have paid for had the mostly outplayed Tranmere taken advantage of the second-half chances they eventually created for Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro and Chris Atkinson.

Nevertheless, Hughes was pleased with another positive performance and happy to still be in the competition.

Stoke will now travel to Birmingham, who knocked out holders Swansea, in the fourth round.

Hughes said: "We want to progress. It is important we show respect to the competition. I have got a good group of players who would like to go all the way.

"It will still be difficult because there are some quality sides left in the competition but if we keep going and keep playing in the manner we are, who knows how far we can go?

"It is all about performance and the levels we are hitting. We continue to look a really accomplished side at the moment. That is pleasing.

"We are not allowing standards to drop and when I make changes the guys who come in are ready to take their chance and show me what they can do."

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