STOKE City manager Mark Hughes believes a fit-again Stephen Ireland can provide the creative spark required to ignite the Potters’ season.
After five weeks on the sidelines through injury, Ireland returned to the side on Tuesday, playing the full 90 minutes of the 2-1 Capital One Cup win at Sunderland.
The intuitive midfielder is now in line to return to Barclays Premier League action on Monday when Stoke host bottom-of-the-table Newcastle and under-pressure boss Alan Pardew.
Stoke, however, have lost both of their first two league matches at the Britannia Stadium this term, an about-turn in fortunes as they suffered only three defeats on home soil all last season.
Ireland’s presence will certainly help galvanise Stoke as Hughes said: “He had a setback with injury, a strange one in between his ribs.
“It was a shame because arguably in pre-season he was one of our best performers.
“You could see he had worked exceptionally hard during the summer to get right and to hit the ground running.
“It was disappointing for him and us he had this setback, and so he’s had to start building himself up again.
“But he’ll come good. He did OK the other night (against Sunderland), and he’s going to get game time. He knows that.
“He’s an important player for us, a good player, good technically, good awareness.
“And certainly at home with the way teams want to set up against us, he’s one of those players that has the creative spark, that ability to pick a pass and open the door.
“We need any number of those players in the team to be able to do that when we come against teams looking to frustrate us.”
Hughes has no fresh injury concerns, with only midfielder Jonathan Walters a doubt with a calf problem.