Hughes decided to leave burly striker Kenwyne Jones and Peter Crouch on the bench with Irish forward Jon Walters playing as a lone striker to allow the Corkman more opportunities to push on in the visitors half in Saturday’s draw with West Brom at the Britannia Stadium.
“He is still trying to get to the levels I know he is capable of,” said the Stoke manager. “It is going to take time. We are eight games in and he has played three or four back to back now so he is getting there slowly.”
Stoke had few clear-cut chances in a largely uninspiring clash against the Baggies.
Ireland spurned Stoke’s best of them when he blazed a first-time shot over the bar on a quick counter-attack. Charlie Adam also forced Boaz Myhill to scramble back and palm over with an opportunistic and well-struck effort from the halfway line.
But the hosts also rode their luck and were reprieved when Adam appeared to trip Youssouf Mulumbu in the penalty area.
“Probably he was a little bit too anxious to try and get a goal towards the end and we need to be mindful that sometimes you can’t run behind the striker when they have a thread going the other way,” said Hughes.
“I thought he did well today in fairness and a number of our players will be better for the game. All in all we will take what we have got which is a point, which is what we deserved.”
West Brom also looked at the result positively as it extended their unbeaten run of games – which has included victory over Manchester United and a draw with Arsenal – to five.
“The Britannia is a tough place to come and we have got to look at it as a point in the right direction,” said defender Billy Jones. “The main thing is the team performance was good. We are showing that consistency now, five unbeaten.”
STOKE CITY: Begovic, Wilkinson, Shawcross, Huth, Pieters, Nzonzi, Adam (Wilson 80), Walters (Jones 57), Ireland, Assaidi, Arnautovic (Palacios 90).
WEST BROM: Myhill, Billy Jones, McAuley, Olsson, Ridgewell, Yacob, Mulumbu, Amalfitano (Morrison 62), Sessegnon, Berahino (Anelka 62), Anichebe (Long 75).
Referee: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire).