Thursday, March 19, 2009

Whelan backs Kelly for Stoke success

Stoke City’s Ireland midfielder Glenn Whelan is backing his international team-mate Stephen Kelly to make an impact at the Britannia Stadium.

Kelly joined City on loan from Birmingham at the end of January, but hasn’t played since making his debut in the 2-0 defeat at Sunderland on February 7.

Both Kelly and club captain Andy Griffin have been kept out of the side by the impressive form of Andy Wilkinson at right-back.

But Whelan, who has known Kelly since their days playing youth football in Dublin, says the former Tottenham defender will let no one down if called upon.

He added: “I am sure once he is given the chance, Stoke fans will see what he can do.

“He’s a very good defender, but probably more of an attacking right-back. I am sure he will do very well.”

Whelan is hoping to take a huge step closer to Premier League survival, and the World Cup finals, over the next 17 days after he and Kelly were picked in the Republic of Ireland squad for the games at home to Bulgaria on March 28 and away to Italy on April 1.

Those games are sandwiched by Stoke’s home game with second-bottom Middlesbrough at the Britannia on Saturday and their trip to basement club West Brom on April 4.

Whelan intends to head to Ireland with Stoke out of the bottom three... and believes
City have an advantage over Gareth Southgate’s Middlesbrough.

He said: “They have been in the Premier League for a long time and maybe nobody expected them to be down there at the start of the season.

“They are under a lot more pressure than us because everyone expected us to go straight back down.

“But it will be a tough game. They will be fighting for their lives, and so will we.”

Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni picked Whelan when the midfielder couldn’t get into the Stoke side in the first half of the season.

Whelan believes that helped him win his place back at Stoke, but doesn’t believe he could stay in the Ireland side in the long term unless he was also playing well for his club.

He said: “He (Trapattoni) has seen something in me and hopefully I have been putting performances in.

“The more games you play, the better you feel in terms of confidence and also match fitness. That helped me because, at the start of the season, I wasn’t playing as many games as I would have liked to at Stoke.

“But if I am not playing well for Stoke then I don’t think I have a chance with Ireland.”

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