LONDON (AP) – Stoke manager Tony Pulis has made giant strides in ridding the team of its ''anti-football'' tag but don't bet on him ditching its most potent attacking weapon in Saturday's FA Cup final against Manchester City - Rory Delap's slingshot throw-in.
Delap's 40-meter missiles from the touchline have been the source of many Stoke goals over the past three seasons in the Premier League, giving defenses up and down the country plenty of headaches in more ways than one.
It's not just the length of the Ireland midfielder's throw that catches the eye. It's more the pace and pinpoint accuracy with which he can pick out his teammates in opposition boxes.
''I know all the emphasis is on my throws and I can't stop that,'' Delap has said.
His throw has turned the 34-year-old Delap into somewhat of an icon in Stoke, a city in central England, with the player admitting he has been inundated with offers to put his rare talent to comedy use. He once received a request from a PR company to throw a Christmas pudding over a double-decker bus.
But his ability to propel a football large distances is no laughing matter to Stoke. The combination of Delap's throw-in and a team packed full of tall, strapping players gives the side a threat that no other team in England can replicate.
For so-called flair teams, such as Arsenal, whose ball-playing defenders are uncomfortable with such a bombardment of throw-ins into their box, a trip to Stoke's Britannia Stadium can turn into a nightmare.
''The problem with Delap is that any throw inside our half is as good as a corner,'' Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, one of football's purists, said last year.
Delap threw the javelin for his athletics club in Carlisle, the northern English town of his birth, when he was a teenager and was a schoolboy champion in the discipline. But it's as a footballer that he has made his name, flitting around a number of lowly Premier League or second-tier League Championship clubs before settling at Stoke in 2007.
However, it's only at Stoke that he has stood out as a player with an exceptionally long throw - and the team has taken full advantage. In one Premier League match last season, against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Molineux, Delap launched a total of 25 long throws into the Wolves penalty area.
Opposition players and managers have spoken of Delap's not-so-secret weapon with a mixture of admiration and indignation.
''I think he puts the ball (in) better with his hands than his foot - it's fantastic,'' Luiz Felipe Scolari, the former Brazil and Portugal coach who managed Chelsea for a short time in the Premier League, said in 2008. ''Maybe it's not beautiful football but it's effective.''
Everton manager David Moyes dubbed the throw a ''human sling'' while Wenger once called Delap's ability an ''unfair advantage,'' leading the French coach to question whether the throw-in rule should be changed so players could take the restart by foot.
A number of goals in Stoke's run to the FA Cup run have stemmed from Delap's throw-ins. Robert Huth directly headed in one of them to set the team on its way to a 2-1 victory over West Ham in the quarterfinals and the confusion caused by one of Delap's throws led to Stoke's second goal, again scored by Huth, in the 5-0 semifinal thrashing of Bolton at Wembley last month.
Expect Stoke to use Delap's throw to the full this weekend at English football's national stadium, with Pulis set to play Delap in midfield in the absence of Matty Etherington.
''It's great for me there (Wembley) because there's plenty of room to get a run-up,'' Delap said after the semifinal victory. ''At lots of other grounds, they have started moving the advertising boards to make it harder for me.''