STEPHEN IRELAND expects to be fit for Sunday’s Manchester derby.
The City midfielder was forced to miss the second half of the weekend win over Arsenal after aggravating an ankle injury he originally suffered at Portsmouth last month.
Blues boss Mark Hughes was concerned the 23-year-old would miss out, particularly as Robinho is already sidelined, Carlos Tevez is a major doubt and disciplinary trouble continues to hang over frontman Emmanuel Adebayor.
But Ireland has been quick to play down fears over his fitness, insisting he will be ready for the Old Trafford encounter.
“I can’t wait for the match and I am confident that I will be fine,” Ireland said.
“The injury was painful on Saturday but the three points soon made that fade.”
Meanwhile winger Damien Duff insists the club are deadly serious about their Europa League campaign this season.
Tottenham and Aston Villa ended up playing youngsters and reserves in the competition last term as fixtures piled up – but Duff expects Roy Hodgson’s squad to be big enough to cope.
They start the group stage of Europe’s second-tier cup on Thursday against CSKA Sofia and travel to Bulgaria full of confidence after Duff’s late winner against Everton at the weekend.
Duff said: “We’re not planning on letting Europe become a major negative factor. Obviously the travelling can be hard at times but the group we’ve been drawn in gives us some nice games, which will give the whole place a lift.
“Hopefully we can carry that into our league programme. I think it’s exciting and when you’re excited you’re not thinking about burning out.’’
Fulham also have Roma and Basel in their group and after qualifiers they will have played 10 games before reaching the knock-out stages.
Hodgson may rotate his squad but Duff believes he will be ready for the CSKA clash at Vasil Levski National Stadium, despite taking a slight knock to one of his knees.
“I was a bit nervous when it jarred but I don’t think it’s a major problem,” said Duff.
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