Sunday 11 December 2016

Stephen Ireland back in Irish frame after key role in Stoke fightback

John Fallon

Published 17/08/2015 | 02:30

Stephen Ireland of Stoke City played a vital part in his team's comeback against Spurs
Stephen Ireland of Stoke City played a vital part in his team's comeback against Spurs

Stephen Ireland is set to re-enter the international sphere this week - at least by way of discussion anyway - after his masterclass helped Stoke City grab a 2-2 draw at White Hart Lane.

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Two goals down at the interval, Mark Hughes introduced the Cobh-born midfielder for the second half and he had a key part to play in both goals.

Ireland was firstly dragged down by Toby Alderweireld to earn a penalty, which Marko Arnautovic converted, before his delightful curling cross was glanced in by Mame Biram Diouf's hair for the equaliser.

Ireland's contribution was lauded by Hughes afterwards, yet the fact he's started only 25 Premier League games since signing permanently for the Potters from Aston Villa 20 months ago underlines the erratic nature of his career.

At least Stoke fans have got to see the mercurial talent sporadically.

Almost eight years have passed since Ireland, who turns 29 on Saturday, last wore the Irish jersey and Martin O'Neill last mentioned his name in May 2014, only to confirm his phonecalls to the exile had gone unreturned.

Desire

Although there have been no signs since of the player expressing a desire to resume his international career, his return to prominence and the scope for experimentation in next month's Euro qualifiers against the bottom two nations in the pool, Gibraltar and Georgia, means O'Neill is sure to be asked for his opinion tomorrow when naming the squad for the upcoming double-header.

"I'm the happiest and the most confident I have been here at Stoke," said Ireland following his match-changing input.

"It's my job to make an impact on any game we play, whether I start or come on from the bench. I was feeling very confident when I came on, saying that I could change the game, so I got on with good intentions and just attacked."

Another playmaker to the fore during Saturday's Premier League action, and one readily available to O'Neill, was Wes Hoolahan.

The Dubliner laid on two assists as Norwich City thumped Sunderland 3-1 at the Stadium Light, where Robbie Brady shone at left-back for the Canaries.

The match was less memorable for John O'Shea. The Sunderland captain was omitted for the second successive game by Dick Advocatt, the Dutchman instead keeping faith with the Sebastian Coates and Younes Kaboul axis.

O'Shea's lack of game-time this season is a concern for O'Neill.

Marc Wilson has also yet to sample competitive action this term, though he did come through a reserve game for Stoke.

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