Ireland In Hughes' Thoughts

Stephen Ireland

MARK HUGHES admits Stephen Ireland remains in his thoughts despite being without the services of the attacking midfielder for almost 18 months.

The Republic of Ireland international hasn’t featured for the first team since the 2-1 defeat against Crystal Palace in May 2016.

And despite having overcome a serious long-term injury, the 31-year-old’s hopes of making a return this term have thus far been hampered by several niggling muscle injuries.

Speaking at the pre-match press conference on Friday morning, Hughes said of the former Manchester City ace: “Stephen has had a frustrating time in recent weeks.

“He has been back with the group but has been picking up little niggles, which is to be expected to be perfectly honest.

“When you are coming back from a long term injury and your body is readjusting to the rigours of training each day then you open yourself up to little issues."

“He has a little problem with his thigh, but he is frustrated because he can see that he is very close to a return.

“He just needs to steer clear of these little injuries, he is working hard though, getting stronger and will be back and available soon.”

Hughes, who oversaw Ireland’s most impressive period during his time in charge of the Citizens, said the midfielder has struggled with the constant setbacks, but reaffirmed that he is getting the right support from everybody at the Club.

“It is difficult for any player, and Stephen can get a bit down on himself because he is desperate to get back playing,” he added.

“He just has to remain positive, he has a lot of support around him and he is a very good guy - he will get the encouragement he needs here, and I am sure he will be back soon.”