Mark Hughes says Hull City's Maynor Figueroa tried to injure Stephen Ireland

Stoke manager Mark Hughes has accused Hull City's Maynor Figueroa of deliberately trying to injure Stephen Ireland.

Figueroa's tackle on Potters midfielder Ireland at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday, which prompted no action from the officials at the time, left the Stoke man with a huge gash in his calf that required 12 stitches, and facing two to three weeks out.

An enraged Hughes claimed post-match that the incident could have finished Ireland's career and said Figueroa should have been shown a straight red card.

Tigers boss Steve Bruce subsequently hit back, suggesting that, at the point the tackle was made, Ireland should not have been on the field as he himself had earlier made "the worst challenge on the pitch" on David Meyler.

It was then put to Hughes on Tuesday that there may have been ill-feeling from Figueroa and his Hull team-mates lingering towards Ireland after the tackle on Meyler.

And the Welshman said: "My honest view is I think it (Figueroa's challenge) was more an attempt to take one of our creative players out of the game rather than retribution.

"I've been a professional footballer, as has Steve, and there are certain instances where you know you can protect your fellow player.

"On this occasion I don't think the lad (Figueroa) did anything to protect Stephen.

"You can argue it was on a follow-through, but I don't get that argument, to be honest. There was time -- the ball was about 20 yards away when he made contact."

Regarding Ireland's tackle on Meyler, Hughes added: "Stephen was slightly late. He put his foot up to try to protect himself because he thinks the lad is going to come in on him.

"He ends up stepping on his foot -- but he doesn't stamp, or go over the top deliberately."

Bruce, speaking on Monday, made it clear he felt it was correct the Figueroa incident had not even been punished with a free-kick, saying: "He kicked the ball and followed through and unfortunately has caught his (Ireland's) leg."

But Hughes said on Tuesday that his Hull counterpart had "fallen into the trap of trying to defend the indefensible."

The Welshman said: "I don't think Steve did himself too much credit in terms of his observations of the events of the day.

"Everyone has seen the two challenges and I didn't think there was any comparison whatsoever."

Figueroa will not be facing any retrospective action from the Football Association over his tackle after referee Neil Swarbrick's match report said he had seen the incident at the time.

And Hughes, who had been strongly critical of Swarbrick and his officials on Saturday, said on Tuesday: "I thought that is what would happen, unfortunately. Once again, it doesn't show referees in a good light.

"It is hard to understand. But it is not surprising, which is the sorry part of it.

"I know they don't want to re-referee games. Maybe they have their hands tied and can't do anything. But there is no leeway -- they go by the rule book and, in these instances, I think the rule book is a bit of a fool.

"With those, they should have the capacity to review them and do something about it."

Hughes was speaking at his press conference to preview Wednesday's home clash with Everton.

As well as Ireland, Stoke will once again be without skipper Ryan Shawcross due to his back issue, although Hughes is hopeful he will be able to select the defender again in "a couple of weeks."

The Potters head into the contest in fine form, having only lost two and won six of their previous 10 league games, including the last two.

They are currently 10th in the table on 39 points from 27 games and looking to better the Premier League club records achieved last season, when Hughes guided the Staffordshire outfit to ninth and a total of 50 points.

And he feels Stoke could even secure European football this term if they continue playing as they have been.

"We are still trying to improve on last year's total, and that was the aim," Hughes said. ``European football? If we continue, we have got an outside chance.

"Probably we were not anticipating that we would be able to challenge for that this year.

"But certainly, once you get to this stage of the season, then if you are getting on a really decent run, you never know."