Hughes plays down Crouch speculation

Mark Hughes insists there has been no fall out with Peter Crouch and that the former England international can still play a part at Stoke City this season.

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Since starting the season as first choice, the 32-year-old has been overlooked for the last six Premier League fixtures as Hughes searches for the attacking combination which will solve the lack of goals.

Stoke are without a Premier League goal for 334 minutes as they head to Old Trafford tomorrow trying to end their miserable run against the reigning Champions since they returned to the top flight under former manager Tony Pulis.

The lack of opportunities for Crouch in recent weeks, behind Jon Walters, Marko Arnautovic and Kenwyne Jones has generated speculation that the striker may be allowed to leave in January, but Hughes has made it clear there is nothing sinister in Crouch's omission from his side.

"There is no specific reason he is not starting. I have looked at a number of combinations and Peter has had a run of games," Hughes said.

"We have a number of different options. It is just a question of settling on one combination we feel will carry us through the vast majority of the season.

"It is always the case with forward players that you can keep them fresh and alert and ready for games just by a little bit of rotation. Really we are doing that to try and find the combination that really works for us. At the moment we have not quite found that.

"It is a confidence thing. That goes hand-in-hand with your strikers when they are not scoring. Sometimes you need a bit of luck, something to fly off their ear. Something like that. Once one flies in, you are off and running. It is as simple as that."

Crouch has never scored against United at Old Trafford and his goal record in the Premier League over the last 12 months does not make the kind of reading that would have Hughes rushing to re-instate him in the side.

He has managed just three Premier League goals in 32 matches during that period, but continues to remain focused and ready should he be given the chance to solve Stoke's goalscoring problem, after just four goals in eight games so far.

"Of course it's disappointing at times. Everyone wants to play and I'm no different, but there is no point in moping around and throwing your toys out of the pram in training," Crouch said.

"You've got to go out there and work hard to try to change the manager's mind. I believe in my ability and when given the opportunity I'm sure Ill be able to stay in the team.

"The manager's proved he's not afraid to chop and change, so you never know. I could be starting the game or could be coming off the bench."

Crouch knows Stoke have to solve their poor record quickly, but feels they can take heart from the fact that United have picked up just one point from their last two home games against Southampton and West Bromwich Albion.

"As a team, certainly at the start of the year, we were playing some good football and the fans were enjoying that, but for some reason recently we haven't been creating or scoring enough goals and it has a knock-on effect because we've not been getting results," Crouch said.

"We've been working very hard this week in training and we have to take heart from West Brom and Southampton, where they really attacked Man United and came out with deserved points. That's what we've got to do."