The 25-year-old midfielder had been absent since he inspired the Tigers to a Boxing Day victory over Preston North End, missing the Sky Bet Championship fixtures against Leeds United, Bolton Wanderers, Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa and Blackburn Rovers, along with the FA Cup trip to Millwall, having been part of the Socceroos’ squad competing in the Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates.
Attempts to retain the crown they won four years ago fell short when losing to the host nation 1-0 in the last eight of the competition – although it was a result that allowed Irvine to return to domestic action with the Tigers.
Handed a place in the starting line-up for the clash with the Potters, Irvine performed admirably in a full 90-minute shift as Nigel Adkins’ side chalked up league win number twelve of the season.
“I’m pleased to be back with the lads, pleased to be back in the team and pleased to have been able to help us pick up what was an important three points against Stoke at the weekend,” he said.
“Sometimes the best way to get over a disappointment is to just kick on. I didn’t hang around after we’d been knocked out of the Asian Cup and got on the next plane home.
“I got to watch all the games while I was in the UAE and it was great to see us pick up some fantastic wins and produce some brilliant team performances.
“It really was a team effort. Everyone was contributing and we scored some great goals. It was great to see the boys kick on and continue to climb the table.
“I didn’t actually see the Blackburn game because I was in the process of travelling back. That was the one disappointing result but we produced a fantastic response on Saturday to get back to winning ways.
“After so many good performances and results, we were almost due a bad day at the office. That’s football, unfortunately, but the most important thing is how you react from that. We bounced back at the first time of asking and full credit to the lads for doing so.
“It was a tough afternoon’s work and the win was the result of a lot of hard graft from everyone involved. I think we did enough to win the game though.
“There were only a few moments of quality in the game but they all came from ourselves and in the end that was what won us the match.”
Irvine also reserved special praise for the defensive trio of Eric Lichaj, Robbie McKenzie and David Marshall following their contribution to the victory over the Potters.
“We had to deal with a little injury problem at centre-half but Robbie (McKenzie) and Eric (Lichaj) were excellent against Stoke and fully deserved all the praise that came their way afterwards,” he added.
“David Marshall was key to the win as well. He produced an outstanding – and vital – save at the end of the first half to preserve our lead. That came at such an important time in the game and – for me – it was the turning point of the match. To go in at the break one goal up was so important.
“‘Marshy’ has been outstanding for us all season and he showed once again just what a good goalkeeper he is and how lucky we are to have him between the posts.
“All three of them deserve special credit for the way they performed against Stoke – they were outstanding.”