As Stoke step up their preparations for a home clash with Reading that Tony Pulis will surely be viewing as a huge opportunity for his side to claim their first league win of 2013, Potters supporters will not have failed to notice the news that Rory Delap would like to make his loan move to Barnsley a permanent one at the end of the season.
While in truth the 36-year-old’s decision may not have a momentous effect on the playing side, with Delap only making one appearance for the club so far this season on the opening day, the player’s departure arguably marks an epoch moment for the entire club and perhaps presents a definitive sign that no matter how slowly, Stoke’s rough-house approach is beginning to loosen slightly.
Fundamentally, Delap and Stoke seemed to work and fit together perfectly. You could not think of one without thinking of the other and in fact, Delap seemed to epitomise everything about the club. Never the most technically gifted, Delap gave 100% commitment every time he stepped on the pitch, making the most out of the gifts he had, be they with the ball at feet or in hand.
Indeed, the early days of Stoke’s Premier League adventure in the 2008/09 season saw Delap’s long-throw become one of the most talked about attributes in a league that at that stage still contained the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie and a fully-firing Fernando Torres.
In the den of the Britannia bear-pit, many a club simply crumbled under the pressure of Delap’s rather agricultural but extremely potent and effective weapon. Arsenal in particular found it difficult to handle “the human sling”, conceding four times at the Britannia as a consequence of it. For a short while, it even appeared as though Delap’s increasing age would never be a factor. After all, it does not take much running power to take a long throw.
However, as time went on, Delap’s effectiveness with the long-throw began to dwindle. Perhaps it was due to age, perhaps it was due to other teams simply learning to deal with it, or perhaps it was down to the evolving nature of the way Stoke play. It may not have come quick enough for some, but there has certainly been a change from the power-play of Stoke’s early Premier League years to now. With such a change, the phasing out of Delap became an unfortunate but necessary exercise.
Of course, the cynics may argue that Stoke’s physicality still remains, as shown by Ryan Shawcross’ crunching tackle on Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny last week, and that in Ryan Shotton, Pulis has found the perfect man to take up Delap’s long-throw mantle. However, Shotton’s throws certainly do not match up to the former Republic of Ireland international’s and even so, it is far from certain that that he will take them even when he was on the field, which will not be regularly once Mark Wilson makes his full return to the first-team after returning from his broken leg in a midweek-friendly.
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