Hughes coy on signing Ireland for long-term
Stoke manager Mark Hughes believes Stephen Ireland is approaching his best form but will not be drawn into a discussion regarding the midfielder's future until the end of the season.
Ireland, who previously worked with Hughes at Manchester City, was signed by the Welshman on a season-long loan from Aston Villa.
Ireland had fallen out of favour under Villa manager Paul Lambert, failing to make an appearance for the final four months of last season before being rescued by Hughes.
The 27-year-old has played in every game since arriving at Stoke at the start of September and has been so delighted with the way he has settled, he has already expressed his desire to join the club on a full-time basis.
Speaking this week, Ireland (right) said: "This is a big campaign for me because I have to earn a contract, here or somewhere else. That's my target. It's in my hands and my performances will reward me with my next club and contract.
Ahead of tomorrow's Premier League game at Swansea, Hughes concedes he has no complaints with what Ireland has achieved so far.
"He's done great, he works really hard and I'm really pleased for him, although there's still a little bit to come from him," said Hughes.
"I don't think he's quite at the levels he has hit before, but he's not far off, which is understandable because he hadn't played any football for some time. But I'm pleased with what he is producing now, although he can get better and he knows that himself."
As to the prospect of signing Ireland permanently, Hughes added: "It is out of our hands somewhat because he's only a loan player, he's not our player. Thankfully we've got him until the end of the season and I'm sure there'll be a conversation at the end of that and we'll see what he wants to do."
MARTINEZ NOT PANICKING
Everton manager Roberto Martinez is confident in the strength and depth of his attacking options, despite losing striker Arouna Kone to a long-term knee injury.
The Ivory Coast international's participation in the remainder of the season has been thrown into doubt by an operation on a cartilage problem.
While on-loan Chelsea forward Romelu Lukaku is fit and firing Martinez will not have a problem and, despite back-up option Nikica Jelavic having scored just once in the league since December 9, the Toffees boss does not fear problems further down the line.
"It is a big blow (losing Kone). When he came on against Hull (his last appearance), I felt we had Arouna back," Martinez said ahead of today's visit to London to face Crystal Palace. "He then had a nasty challenge and it never settled down. It's going to be a lengthy spell. Darron Gibson has been in a similar situation (having had cruciate knee ligament surgery) and those two players are working hand in hand to get back."
ROVERS SIGN EX-SAINT KENNA
Shamrock Rovers have confirmed the signing of former St Patrick's Athletic captain Conor Kenna for next season.
Kenna (28), who leaves the Saints after helping to guide them to the Airtricity League Premier Division title last season, turned down a new offer from the Inchicore club to move back to his native Tallaght.
Kenna said: "This is a new challenge for me and one I'm very much looking forward to. Obviously I had a good year last season with St Pat's and it was hard to decide to leave. But Shamrock Rovers had approached me two or three times throughout my career and it felt like the right move for me now."