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Hodgson is sure Stones will go on to fulfil his potential

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Close watch: John Stones tracks Wilfried Zaha during the 2-2 draw at the Etihad

Close watch: John Stones tracks Wilfried Zaha during the 2-2 draw at the Etihad

Close watch: John Stones tracks Wilfried Zaha during the 2-2 draw at the Etihad

Former England manager Roy Hodgson is confident the best of John Stones is still to come.

The Manchester City defender has endured another inconsistent season in the Premier League.

The 25-year-old suffered criticism after Hodgson's Crystal Palace snatched a surprise 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Hodgson, who handed Stones his England debut in 2014 and took him to Euro 2016, feels the player is being judged harshly.

"John is a good player," Hodgson said. "John's young, too. He still has his best years ahead of him. He's still learning the game and learning it in a fantastic environment with very good players around him.

"I still think that John Stones is every bit what we expected him to be but he's playing in a very important goldfish bowl.

"Every mistake or every good thing is magnified 10 times over. He's very much a player that City and England will have good use from in the future."

Stones began the season facing heightened scrutiny after a horror performance in England's Nations League semi-final loss to Holland last summer.

The spotlight was also increased at City following the departure of former captain Vincent Kompany and injury to fellow centre-back Aymeric Laporte.

Stones' former England team-mate Gary Cahill, also now at Palace, believes he can cope with the criticism.

Cahill said: "I'm sure he has a thick enough skin to deal with that. He had a fantastic World Cup and I hope he stays fit because if he stays fit I'm sure he'll progress under this manager.

"He has had a couple of injuries which have not helped him but he is a very, very talented footballer and a great defender."

City have sorely missed Laporte, who has been out since suffering a knee injury in August, in what has been a disappointing title defence.

The Frenchman is now back in training and closing in on a return but tomorrow's trip to Sheffield United will come too soon.

There have been suggestions he could feature in next weekend's FA Cup fourth round tie against Fulham but manager Pep Guardiola has not confirmed that.

Guardiola has also tried to play down expectations ahead of Laporte's comeback.

He said: "We cannot expect that Aymeric is going to solve all of the problems.

"He is getting better and the doctor is going to evaluate him in the training sessions, and I am going to talk to him, (to see) when it will be possible, step by step, to come in.

"But after four or five months out he will need time. He will not be ready immediately to do it."

Benjamin Mendy, meanwhile, insists City are far from finished despite accepting the Premier League title has gone.

The champions have been unable to match the outstanding consistency of their past two title-winning seasons this term.

For the second year in succession, Palace proved to be a thorn in City's side as they snatched a 2-2 draw at the Etihad.

Guardiola accepted last month his side could no longer catch runaway leaders Liverpool but there are still three other trophies to play for, including the Champions League.

Left-back Mendy said: "When you start the league you try to win, to do your best and you have to say the truth, which is that Liverpool have done very, very well and are a good, strong team - everybody can see that.

"We deal well with it. When another team is doing well you can't be upset or angry. This is the truth, no one can complain. So in our dressing room we try to focus on us.

"All the people say Man City are finished. They can say what they want - we will just keep focusing on us, play our football, win the games, to fight until the league is finished.

"We have seen other teams who have won the title have not reached the Champions League the season after - they were in the Europa League.

"We won our first title, and then won again, and now we are still second or third. We don't have the answer for what has happened but every player tries to give everything for the team."

City dominated against Palace but were again exposed at the back as Cenk Tosun, making his first start since moving from Everton on loan, headed the visitors ahead.

City looked to have turned it around as Sergio Aguero struck twice in the last eight minutes to put them ahead - taking his record tally for the club past 250 in the process - but Wilfried Zaha forced an own goal off Fernandinho.

Mendy said: "I was thinking we would win the game, and the players were ready to fight until the end to keep the score.

"But in football anything can happen when you lose focus for one second. Now we are sad."

Palace created few opportunities but they were able to trouble City and for Tosun it was an impressive full debut.

The Turkish striker almost caught Ederson out of his goal soon after opening the scoring and later forced a good save out of the Brazilian.

Manager Hodgson said: "Cenk Tosun was someone we scouted two years ago. At the time Everton bought him but when we had the chance to get him on loan for this period, Dougie Freedman, our sporting director, was very keen.

"I was really delighted with what I saw. It was a wonderful debut and I hope he will produce many more performances like that in the last 15 games of the season."

Belfast Telegraph