STOKE midfielder Stephen Ireland has set his sights on keeping his place in the Potters starting eleven for the remainder of the season.
The 27-year-old produced his best performance in a Stoke shirt in last month’s home win over West Ham before putting in a man of the match display in last weekend’s victory over Hull City.
He is flourishing under the tenure of Mark Hughes for the second time in his career, after previously playing for the manager at Manchester City during 2008 and 2009.
Ireland admits he is loving life at the Britannia Stadium and expressed his delight after breaking back into the Potters starting line-up in recent weeks.
“I’m really enjoying my time here and I’m playing with a smile on my face,” he enthused in an interview with Stoke City Player.
“I perform better when I’m getting regular games, and I’m getting that. But the manager’s methods and way he wants us to play really suits me as a player.
“Personally, I feel like my technique, my instincts and my fitness are improving. I’m really starting to find my feet again so I’m very pleased and I have a lot to thank the gaffer for.
“I’m very happy here and I’m enjoying the style of football we are playing. The team has done very well and hopefully now I’ve got myself back in the side, I can play every game from now until the end of the season.”
Stoke are seven points from equalling their best Premier League points tally earned in the 2009/10 campaign and are on the verge of finishing in the top half of the table for the first time since gaining promotion in 2008.
Ireland says the dressing room is on a high and insists the management team won’t allow the squad to slip away from achieving their targets in the remaining six games of the season.
“The morale in the dressing room is really great. We’ve picked up three vital wins which has given us a really good base to push on for the remainder of the season,” he said.
“Looking at the games we have left, it’s a real opportunity to pick up as many points as we possibly can. We can’t take our foot off the gas and hopefully we can break the records we have been set out to do.
“The goal is to finish in the top ten and the manager won’t let anything else but that happen.
“Every day in training the gaffer continues to push us on and everybody here wants to achieve that target and finish this season as a success.”
He added: “We’ve been playing really well the last few weeks. There has been some really good football played and we fear nobody at the moment.”
The former Aston Villa man turned his initial season-long loan into a permanent contract back in January, but will see his deal expire at the end of the current season.
Ireland revealed he was in positive talks with the Potters about extending his stay at the Britannia Stadium.
“We’re in the middle of talks at the moment and I trust something will be sorted soon, but I do hope to stay at Stoke for as long as possible.”