Skipper Ryan Shawcross is back in the running for a possible return to the ranks to boost Stoke City’s intensifying battle against relegation to League One.
He left the pitch gingerly and failed to return for the second half of the 3-2 defeat at the bet365.
The pre-match plan had been to play him for the first half only, but the stoppage for treatment shortly before the break muddied the waters.
Fears of yet another unlucky setback for the club stalwart have since been allayed, however, after the under-23’s assistant manager Wade Elliot revealed: “Ryan’s fine, that was always the plan, with the first team playing this week.
“We were being precautionary and he’ll be much better off for getting those minutes.”
That leaves Shawcross in with an outside shot of forcing his way back into matchday contention this weekend when Stoke entertain Hull City in what is widely being billed as their biggest game of the season so far.
And that is a rare piece of good news for Shawcross after enduring the worst of his 13 seasons at the club because of injury.
His pre-season leg break sidelined him until December when he returned against Luton and lasted barely a dozen minutes following a groin strain.
He was back for the Boxing Day win over Sheffield Wednesday, but finished the next game at Fulham on December 28 playing up front to protect a calf strain after manager Michael O’Neill had already used all three subs.
Now the 32 year-old veteran of nearly 400 club appearances is being assessed after his 45 minutes against Manchester United to see where he goes next.
But O’Neill, wary of those two previous comebacks, has already said he will err on the side of caution and have to be certain Shawcross is 100 per cent before naming him in his squad.
Stoke’s team against Manchester United saw 90 minutes for goalkeeper Adam Davies, full back Tom Edwards and January signing Tashan Oakley-Boothe. while full back Josh Tymon was subbed in the 78th minute and striker Mame Diouf in the 72nd.
Shawcross apart, Stoke have short-term injury doubts over Irish duo James McClean and Stephen Ward, while Thibaud Verlinden is out until next season.
But Hull will arrive in the Potteries on Saturday with up to 10 players missing injured and with a record of two draws and eight defeats since New Year’s Day to leave them just two points above Stoke ahead of kick off.
Stoke say there are still tickets available for the game via the usual outlets.