Manchester City boss Mark Hughes has urged Stephen Ireland to be patient following a period of frustration for the midfield star.
The 23-year-old was City's player of the year last season, scoring 13 goals in a vibrant campaign which resulted in him being rewarded with a new five-year contract at the end of May. But after suffering illness this season his place has been taken by Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong who have made City's central midfield their own.
Hughes can appreciate Ireland's situation but is adamant that his time will come again, and said: "It's about him being patient and biding his time and he will get opportunities, he knows that. He is too good a player to keep out of the team for too long."
He added: "We've changed the shape of the team. For the majority of the season last year we played 4-3-3, but we have changed to a 4-4-2 more often than not this year.
"Nigel and Gareth became a pair when Stephen went out of the team, did well, so Stephen has found it a little difficult to get back in.
"It's not really a reflection on how he is playing because he is doing exceptionally well in training games, or whatever
Ireland is almost certain to be on the bench again for Saturday's Barclays Premier League visit of Burnley to Eastlands as City look to end a run of four successive draws.
Unlike their title rivals City have an advantage this season of not being involved in potentially draining midweek European matches.
Hughes can feel the benefit as his squad continues to settle in the wake of his summer spending spree, even if the results of late have not borne that out.
He continued: "I said at the beginning of the season it would be advantageous not to be in Europe. We knew from our efforts in Europe last year that we found it very difficult to challenge on all fronts we were involved in."
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