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By ESPN Staff

Hughes hails Ireland as one of City's stars

Manchester City manager Mark Hughes believes Stephen Ireland's profile is improving almost as fast as the club's.

The talented midfielder is expected to play a key role tomorrow at Wigan after an impressive performance in the drubbing of Portsmouth last weekend.

He pulled the strings as City got the perfect result on the day the takeover by the Abu Dhabi United Group was confirmed.

The Middle East company had already stated their ambition by sanctioning the £32.5million signing of Robinho from Real Madrid in the transfer window.

With Shaun-Wright Phillips also returning to Eastlands and Jo signing earlier in the summer for a reported £19million, Ireland suddenly found himself in the company of big-name players.

But instead of being fazed he has raised his own game, according to Hughes.

''I do not think he has been appreciated by as many people as he should have been,'' said the City boss.

''He is still a young man learning his trade but he has great attributes. He has taken the attitude he wants to be part of what is happening here and is going to work hard to achieve it.

''This is going to be a key season for him. If he can stay fit he will have a big part in whatever success we have.

''Stephen is in a rich vein of form. The key to his performances is the amount of energy and drive he is giving to the team. His skill is also coming to the fore.

''I have been really pleased with his level of play in the last couple of weeks. He has kept going from start to finish.''

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