Belfast Telegraph

Hughes praises Bojan determination

Stoke boss Mark Hughes feels Bojan Krkic has answered any doubts over whether he can cope with the grittier side of life as a Barclays Premier League footballer.

Bojan arrived in the English game over the summer with a reputation as a player of undoubted talent but also with question marks hanging over him.

Certainly, there was plenty of interest in seeing how the little forward - a product of the Barcelona academy who has also played for Roma, AC Milan and Ajax - would fare having joined the Potters, particularly on what are deemed the less glamorous occasions.

Bojan, though, is emerging as a key man for his new side and he produced a typically influential display in Stoke's 1-0 win at Everton on Boxing Day amid bitterly cold, soaking wet conditions.

The 24-year-old Spaniard proved the match-winner of a physical contest, earning and then converting a 38th-minute penalty.

And Hughes said: "You saw the determination in Bojan, both in the initial run into the box and then to grab the ball and score the penalty.

"The Everton game was a new experience once again for him and I think he is really enjoying what is happening with his football.

"It was a cold, wet day, but all that is an old cliche.

"It is something where if people see any weakness in Bojan's play or attitude to hard work, they will say he is not quite right for the English game.

"I think in the short space of time he has been here, he has knocked all those thoughts on the head because he has come in and shown he is an exceptional professional. He works really hard every day to get better and stronger."

Eleventh-placed Stoke's next match is a home clash with West Brom on Sunday and Hughes is hopeful Bojan, who came off in the second half against Everton due to a back problem, will be available.

A head injury sustained by Ryan Shawcross in that game should not stop him from being involved, but Phil Bardsley is a doubt because of the ankle issue that ruled him out of playing at Goodison Park, and Stephen Ireland (knee) looks set to be absent again.

The Potters - now with 51 points for 2014, their best haul for a calendar year since their promotion to the Premier League in 2008 - head into the fixture against 15th-placed West Brom still looking to record back-to-back top-flight victories for the first time this term.

Hughes' men have pulled off some impressive triumphs, beating the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham, but struggled each time to then build upon the result.

The Welshman is optimistic that might change following the Everton contest as his side prepare to host an Albion outfit that have only one win in their last eight league games.

"We have found it difficult to get back-to-back results - that is something that has stalled our season on occasions," Hughes said.

"We have had really good performances, then stumbled in the next game. So hopefully that won't be the case this time.

"It is difficult for everyone with the quick turnaround, a little bit unfair on everybody really. But we'll make the best of it - we pride ourselves on our fitness levels."

West Brom boss Alan Irvine will not shirk the challenge as he searches for the winning formula.

Pressure is growing on Irvine, at a club not renowned for its patience, as the Baggies' poor run of results continued with a 3-1 loss to Manchester City on Boxing Day.

But Irvine has reasons to be encouraged. His side built up a 2-0 lead with some impressive attacking play against QPR last weekend - only to capitulate and lose - and individual errors hampered them against City.

Irvine said: "It will be a very tough game at Stoke - it is a hard place to go. They are a team who are capable of causing you a lot of problems.

"But we will do the work we normally do on them and hopefully that will get us a good result.

"They had a good result against Everton and will be feeling good about that, so it is a big challenge - but if we can eradicate the individual errors then we are good enough to cause them problems.

"All I can do is keep trying to do the job in the way that I do it. I work extremely hard. I try to leave nothing to chance."

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