Stoke boss Mark Hughes does not believe Ryan Shawcross’ recent injury problems give cause for concern looking forward.
Club captain Shawcross, for so long a virtual ever-present rock at the heart of the Potters defence, has only made 16 appearances this term.
The 28-year missed the start of the season having undergone back surgery over the summer.
And after returning to action in October, he picked up another back problem towards the end of last month that was expected to rule him out for three to four weeks.
Speaking on Friday ahead of Saturday’s match against Aston Villa, Hughes said he hoped Shawcross might be able to return in another week’s time.
When asked if he had concerns over Shawcross in the long-term, Hughes said: “He’s not that old, is he?
“This is a completely different injury to the previous one, and I just think it was a consequence of the period we went through after he came back before.
“We came through a lot of really high intensity games in a short period and I think that compromised him.
“But I don’t think long-term there’s any concern in terms of managing his game time. I think he will always have a good number of games in any given season.
“Certainly we will be more mindful if he gets twinges – it would be silly not to register them or put him in situations where he might be compromised again.
“But I don’t have any real concerns in that regard.”
Hughes – also without defenders Marc Muniesa (hamstring), Glen Johnson and Marc Wilson (both knee), but hopeful of having Geoff Cameron (ankle) available this weekend – added: “I think Ryan is being, and needs to be, careful.
“He wants to come back making sure he is available for all the games through to the end of the season.
“That is his goal, and we fully support him on that.”