Stephen Ireland has always been one of the favourite players

Stephen Ireland has always been one of the favourite players of Mark Hughes, but the Stoke City manager has been struggling to give opportunities to the 29-year-old this season.

Ireland was expected to be a big presence in the midfield of Stoke this season, but he has had only 128 minutes of league action so far. All of his six appearances in the league have come as a substitute and it has led to speculation that Ireland could be on the move once again. In a recent fans meeting, defender Ryan Shawcross admitted that Ireland will be frustrated with the lack of first-team opportunities. However, he remains an integral part of the club.

There has been a sea change as far as the style of football at the Britannia stadium is concerned. Hughes has been trying to bring together an attractive style of football while also maintaining results. This will be extremely hard to achieve, but one of the players first brought to the club with this mentality was Ireland. The former Manchester City and Aston Villa star has the ability to unlock defences with eye of the needle passes. However, he has made only two starts this season and they have been in the League Cup.

“Stephen is a big part of what we are doing.When players are not in the team it is difficult and I have to make them understand they will get opportunities.I try to be fair and, if they play well, keep them in the team.Stephen knows what I think of him. I’ve worked with him for many, many years and I brought him to the club because he’s an outstanding player, but just has to be patient.When I name an 18 there’s three, four, five not involved and they haven’t done anything wrong.But they know I value them and that they will get opportunities,” said Hughes.