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Ireland blow rocks Blues bid

Stephen Ireland training 0809

Stephen Ireland training 0809

STEPHEN IRELAND is almost certainly out for the Blues as Mark Hughes' team tackle Arsenal at The Emirates looking to get their run-in challenge for a top-seven finish in the Premier League off to a positive start.

The influential midfielder limped out of training after damaging an ankle on Thursday, and his absence from the starting line-up this afternoon will be a huge blow to City's hopes of pulling off a double over Arsene Wenger's men.

 Ireland, who has enjoyed a terrific season, was outstanding in the 3-0 home victory over Arsenal in November and scored an opening goal that was later overshadowed by Robinho's brilliant chip for City's second.

 Despite Ireland's probable absence, it was not all bad news for manager Hughes as Craig Bellamy has made good progress with the sore knee that prevented the Wales skipper from facing Germany in Cardiff on Wednesday night.

 Striker Bellamy will need a fitness test before the game but the Blues are optimistic that he could be fit to lead the attack in a game that pits Hughes against one of the respected rivals he loves to cross swords with.

 That is Arsenal manager Wenger, by the way, and not skipper Cesc Fabregas, expected to step back after three months out injured and the recipient of a few harsh words from the Blues boss in his days as Blackburn's manager.

 Fabregas is now a little older and wiser than the day he riled Hughes with a jibe about the style of Blackburn's football after Rovers had forced an FA Cup replay. The Blues will not be playing with a draw in mind today.

 Hughes and Wenger have not always seen eye to eye, but the City boss said: "Our relationship is as good as with any Premier League managers. I always invite him in for a drink. I might have gatecrashed his office on one occasion but he was OK about it!

 "He's a proper football man who's engrossed in his club. Some of us, myself included, get used to having a response for when we lose. It's not the same for the top four managers, they're not that used to losing games.

  "But I am an admirer of what Arsene has done over the years, I have a lot of time for him. The quality of the football Arsenal produce when they're in full flow is as good as any team in the League or possibly Europe.

  "They are looking now for winning football again in terms of trophies, which they've not had the last few years. They will hope to address that this year, but might have to look to next year.

  "I like going up against the so-called big four. They ask huge questions of you, and as a team and as a manager you must have answers. But they are attack-minded, and there will be opportunities for us on occasions. We have to take them."

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Mark Hughes 0809

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