Ireland attempting to concentrate on football

November 7, 2007

Stephen Ireland has insisted his off-field problems have not proved a distraction for him at Manchester City this season.

Ireland learned yesterday he will face no Football Association sanction, other than a minor slap on the wrist, for the bizarre 'Superman' goal celebration that accompanied his matchwinner against Sunderland on Monday.

The 21-year-old will no doubt be relieved Soho Square chiefs took a lenient view of his ill-advised move, given he has hit the headlines for the wrong reasons on enough occasions already this season.

Ireland infamously lied about the death of both his grandmothers to excuse himself from international duty earlier this season when the real reason, that his partner had suffered a miscarriage, was an equally valid cause for compassionate leave.

Since then, the Cork-born player has called a temporary halt to his Republic of Ireland career, with some well-placed sources claiming the present hiatus, extended by caretaker boss Don Givens yesterday, could become permanent amid reports in-house joking within the Irish camp over his `new' hairstyle have got out of hand.

Nevertheless, City boss Sven-Goran Eriksson was delighted with Ireland's contribution to the Sunderland success.

With Michael Johnson out for three weeks after being sent for abdominal surgery, Ireland's presence will be required as City look to maintain their impressive start to the campaign.

And the youngster is happy to deliver.

'It has not been tough concentrating on football,' Ireland told his club's official website. 'There are so many great people at City who have helped me and stood by me and are continuing to do so.

'I have gone into every game with a clear mind, with the aim of working hard and hopefully letting the football shine. What I am looking for is to find some consistency to my game and not look back.'

Having reclaimed third spot in the Barclays Premier League table, just two points adrift of leaders Arsenal, Eriksson's side face an acid test of their European ambitions on Sunday when they visit Portsmouth.

Fratton Park has not been a particularly happy hunting ground for the Blues over the last few years, with four of their last five visits to the cramped south-coast venue ending in defeat.

But with Pompey emerging as one of the more serious contenders for a European spot, now would be the perfect time for City to register their first Premier League away win since their opening-day success over West Ham.

Ireland is set be offered a more central berth alongside Dietmar Hamman, with Darius Vassell included on the left wing as Eriksson looks to cover Johnson's absence.

However, it seems certain there will be no place for #8.8million forward Rolano Bianchi, whose ineffective display as a substitute against Sunderland merely confirmed the impression the Italian is virtually on his own as an Eriksson mistake in the transfer market.

Bianchi is heavily tipped to head back to Italy in January and, with Georgios Samaras also likely to be discarded, Eriksson's search for striking reinforcements will intensify.

In the meantime, Ireland is determined to do his bit. And having netted for the first time this season against Roy Keane's men, he is now anxious to start catching Elano and Martin Petrov, who have eight between them.

'Hopefully that will kick-start my season in terms of goalscoring because it is vital that everyone contributes,' he said. 'In the system we are playing, with one up front, it is hard work for the striker.

'Michael Johnson had been giving me some stick about not scoring, so I was delighted to shut him up. Now I have got off the mark, the aim is to catch Elano and Martin Petrov.'