Stephen Ireland makes instant impression with Noel King watching on
STEPHEN Ireland marked his first start for Stoke with a goal in front of watching Ireland caretaker manager Noel King.
The controversial Corkman hit the target in their League Cup win over Tranmere with the presence of King prompting suggestions that he could be in line for a remarkable recall to the international scene.
Glenn Whelan was the only other member of Stoke's Irish quartet to start the game, with Jonathan Walters introduced as a substitute.
King said on the eve of the game that he would not close the door to any player when asked if Darron Gibson, Anthony Stokes and Ireland were in his plans for the concluding World Cup double-header with Germany and Kazakhstan.
However, in contrast to Gibson and Stokes, Ireland has not definitively said that he wants to pull on the green jersey again. Instead, he said that he would be willing to have a discussion about it with the next manager, which indicated there was still a road to travel before he could end his six-year exile.
The 27-year-old is still relatively short of match practice and has been sprung from the bench by Mark Hughes in the Premier League. This trip to take on League One opposition gave him the opportunity for a longer outing, although he was replaced in the 61st minute of the 2-0 success. King will name his squad for the October fixtures next Monday at a press conference in Abbotstown.
Ireland is hoping to rejuvenate his career under Hughes, his former Manchester City boss, after falling out of favour at Villa.
Hughes said: "Stephen has come in and everybody can see he is an intelligent footballer.
"He understands the game and how to affect the game in a positive manner.
"He took up some great positions in and around the opposition box and when he gets in good areas he will finish. I thought he was excellent.
"But we are still trying to get him up to speed.
"He has missed a lot of senior football. He has not had a lot of game time and it is going to take him a little bit of time to get up to the level I know he is capable of.
"But you saw in the amount of time he had that he is going to be a good player for us."
Ireland, who had made two substitute appearances in the previous two Barclays Premier League games, played for the first hour before being withdrawn.
Hughes hopes he can go on to make a big impact this season but is not planning for him to start against Norwich on Sunday.
Hughes said: "He is not ready yet but he is getting there."
Meanwhile, Swansea's defence of the cup ended at the first hurdle as they were knocked out courtesy of a resounding 3-1 defeat by Birmingham at St Andrew's.
It is just seven months and one day since Michael Laudrup's side lifted the first major honour in their 101-year history with a thumping 5-0 victory over Bradford at Wembley.
But the holders were brought crashing back down to earth by another side who also share fond recent memories of the competition – 2011 winners Birmingham.
It was a classic game of two halves in the third-round tie as the Swans saw plenty of the ball in the opening period and hit the woodwork twice within a matter of seconds through Wilfried Bony and Alejandro Pozuelo.
But Dan Burn headed home his first goal for the home side in the 56th minute before Matt Green added a second from close range soon after.
Inspired by winger Chris Burke, who played his part in all three goals, Tom Adeyemi also got in on the act with his maiden goal late on – with Bony netting a consolation with virtually the last touch. Laudrup had made no secret of his desire to lift the League Cup in successive seasons, despite the heavy demands of the Europa League, although he did make 10 changes from Sunday's league victory at Crystal Palace, with midfielder Jonjo Shelvey the only survivor.
Yet his side were unable to reproduce their recent form that saw them famously beat Valencia 3-0 in the Mestalla.
The only downside of the evening for Birmingham was that there was only 7,470 in attendance to watch what was arguably the biggest upset of the third round.