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ireland sparked into life; Potters star revitalised by Hughes.

Byline: ALAN NIXON Tranmere 0 Stoke City 2

STEPHEN IRELAND is determined to grab his big-time lifeline at Stoke - and put his misery behind him in style.

The Irish midfielder joined old boss Mark 'Sparky' Hughes after ending his torture at Aston Villa and took the chance to show his stuff on his first start.

Ireland's ability has never been in doubt and his attitude looked spot-on too as he hit the net after 21 months of firing blanks and sitting on benches.

Marko Arnautovic played a sweet ball into his path and Ireland swept a shot beyond keeper Owain Fon Williams for a neat 23rd-minute opener.

Hughes said: "Stephen finished his goal well, he is an intelligent footballer. He understands the game and takes good positions in the opposition's box.

"He is getting there, we are just trying to get him up to speed. He has missed a lot of senior football and it will take time to get to the level he is capable of."

Ireland and Arnautovic - both Hughes captures - stood out as Stoke played pretty football, with their fans ironically chanting 'It's just like watching Brazil.' But Hughes's culture club were not always a hit, often playing risky crossfield passes that a better side would have exploited. The backheel and flick count was also through the roof.

However, Ronnie Moore's strugglers failed to profit, with Chris Atkinson's cross-shot and Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro's mis-hit effort all they had in their locker in the first half.

Akpa Akpro curled a much better over after the break and Atkinson volleyed across the face of goal, with Stoke starting to free-wheel to the next round.

Ireland (right) went off after an hour, fatigued by his efforts following such a lengthy absence.

Substitute Jon Walters went close twice but Stoke did not seem too bothered about extending the lead or themselves.

Peter Crouch was the one exception, keeping on until the end and was rewarded with a goal from the last kick of the tie.

Crouch chested down a cross from sub Oussam Assaidi and picked his spot in the bottom corner with a chip.

mirrorsport@trinitymirror.com

match stats 56% POSSESSION 44% 8 SHOTS ON TARGET 2 3 SHOTS OFF TARGET 8 0 CORNERS 1 0 OFFSIDE 0 9 FOULS 10 1 0 CARDS 2 0 TRANMERE: Williams 6, Stockton 6, Taylor 6, Dugdale 6, Horwood 5, Lowe 5, Power 5, Atkinson 6, Hateley 5, Rowe 5 (Baggie 73, 5), Akpro 6. STOKE: Sorensen 6, Cameron 7, Shawcross 7, Huth 7, Muniesa 6, Pennant 6 (Walters 76), Palacios 6, Whelan 6, Arnautovic 8 (Etherington 76), MOTM Ireland 7 (Assaidi 61, 6) Crouch 7. REF: David Coote ATT: 5,559

CAPTION(S):

DEADLY DOUBLE Stephen Ireland (left) put Stoke ahead and Peter Crouch (main pic) made sure with the second
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Title Annotation:Sport; Opinion, Columns
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Sep 26, 2013
Words:469
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