Stoke City's Ryan Shotton has been cleared of assault following an incident in Hanley city centre in the summer.
Shotton, 24, was found not guilty of attacking Mark McDonald and said afterwards: "I am just a happy man. Justice has been done."
North Staffordshire magistrates heard that Shotton, who missed the draw with Everton on Saturday because of a one-match suspension, punched Mr McDonald once in the early hours of June 24, leaving him needing stitches to cuts to his lip and head.
Shotton said it was a pre-emptive punch in self-defence and he was protecting a friend. The court heard that trouble flared after an incident in Touch nightclub. Mr McDonald admitted he was 'wound up' and said there was a confrontation in which he described a 'bit of pushing and shoving' before he was asked to leave the club.
"I acted in self defence for myself, and my friend," Shotton told the court.
The full-back or right-sided midfielder was Stoke's Young Player of the Year last season and has made seven first-team appearances in 2012-13, the latest of them ending in an unfortunate red card at Aston Villa.