Mark Hughes dismisses concerns over Ryan Shawcross' long-term durability
Stoke boss Mark Hughes does not believe Ryan Shawcross' recent injury problems give cause for concern looking forward.
Club captain Shawcross, for so long a virtual ever-present rock at the heart of the Potters defence, has only made 16 appearances this term.
The 28-year missed the start of the season having undergone back surgery over the summer.
And after returning to action in October, he picked up another back problem towards the end of last month that was expected to rule him out for three to four weeks.
Speaking on Friday ahead of Saturday's match against Aston Villa, Hughes said he hoped Shawcross might be able to return in another week's time.
When asked if he had concerns over Shawcross in the long-term, Hughes said: "He's not that old, is he?
"This is a completely different injury to the previous one, and I just think it was a consequence of the period we went through after he came back before.
"We came through a lot of really high intensity games in a short period and I think that compromised him.
"But I don't think long-term there's any concern in terms of managing his game time. I think he will always have a good number of games in any given season.
"Certainly we will be more mindful if he gets twinges - it would be silly not to register them or put him in situations where he might be compromised again.
"But I don't have any real concerns in that regard."
Hughes - also without defenders Marc Muniesa (hamstring), Glen Johnson and Marc Wilson (both knee), but hopeful of having Geoff Cameron (ankle) available this weekend - added: "I think Ryan is being, and needs to be, careful.
"He wants to come back making sure he is available for all the games through to the end of the season.
"That is his goal, and we fully support him on that."
Stoke have not played since their 3-1 Premier League victory at Bournemouth on February 13, with Hughes taking his players away to a warm-weather training camp in Dubai in between.
The Welshman has no doubt it was a beneficial experience and is optimistic it will have a positive effect as the Potters - currently 10th - look to finish the season strongly.
They return to action against a Villa side in dire straits, lying eight points adrift of safety at the foot of the table with 12 matches to go.
Asked if he thought Villa are doomed, Hughes said: "I think it's very difficult - you get to a point where you end up running out of games, even if you have had a big swing in form or momentum.
"It may be they're coming to point where they'll feel like that. But they are not out of it and while they still feel they can stay in the league, they will have a go."
Meanwhile, Hughes has given his reaction to Stoke's announcement that their season ticket prices have been frozen for a ninth successive year.
"I think it's fantastic what this club has done, once again and over a long period of time," Hughes said.
"We know it's expensive to watch football and are very sensitive to that."