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Delap throws a hefty spanner into City works

TONY PULIS may have promised a sold-out and raucous arena when these teams meet again in the cup, but nothing the Britannia Stadium produces will match the atmosphere the last time Shay Given faced Stoke in a replay.

It was the second coming – or third if you count Kevin Keegan’s two years as a player at Newcastle. Sam Allardyce had been fired after a goalless draw in the Potteries and with cars, black-and-white banners streaming from their windows, circling St James’ Park it was announced the Messiah was back on Tyneside. Newcastle won 4-1, Stoke were swept away on a rip tide of emotion and then it all fizzled out. Unlike Roberto Mancini, Keegan never seemed to have an idea of what he might achieve, except restore a vague feelgood factor to Tyneside. Mancini has been explicit; a top-four finish this year, the title in 2011. There might also be scope for a cup or two. Stoke, however, provide a rather more formidable barrier than they did two years ago.

Given was not exaggerating when he remarked that this month would probably decide how City’s season finished up. Aside from the replay with Stoke on February 24, there is tomorrow’s encounter in the Premier League and then a series of critical battles – Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham. “I guess people will judge us after that,” Given reflected. “This really is the business end of the season. You have to get results in those games if you want to achieve anything and we are only too aware of that.”

Tomorrow night, City will once more have to do without Carlos Tevez, who flew back to Argentina after his girlfriend’s pregnancy developed complications.

Nevertheless, should Manchester City win on a ground where they were relegated to the old Third Division in 1998, it would take them into fourth, three points clear of Liverpool with a game in hand, although Given confessed that they would have to deal with Rory Delap’s long throws more effectively.

Pulis remarked afterwards that he saw no reason why Stoke should be stigmatised for a tactic they employed better than anyone else. He pointed out that Gareth Bale attempts it for Tottenham and it had been heavily used in the Southampton - Portsmouth derby but nobody does it better than the schoolboy javelin champion.

Delap did not start on Saturday evening and had Pulis not been forced to replace first Matthew Etherington and then Liam Lawrence, he might not have come on at all. And yet, should Stoke reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup for the first time since 1972, Delap will have played a significant role. His high-velocity throw-ins have now produced goals in every round, all of which have been converted by Ricardo Fuller, who had spent the previous weekend in police custody after a nightclub fracas. However, as Delap pointed out: “The worst thing in the world could have happened to him on the Monday and you wouldn’t have known it because he is so laid-back.”

The way he headed home the long throw into a Manchester City area that had scarcely been threatened in the previous 56 minutes was for Given an example of the lax defending he imagined he had left behind at St James’ Park. “What was disappointing was that we had 10 men in the box, including me. They had four and Fuller still had a free header,” he said.

Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Given; Zabaleta, Touré, Lescott, Bridge; De Jong, Barry; Wright-Phillips, Ireland (Vieira, 72), Petrov (Santa Cruz, 62); Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Onuoha, Garrido, Sylvinho, Boyata.

Stoke City (4-4-2): Sorensen; Huth, Shawcross, Higginbotham, Wilkinson (Collins, 55); Etherington (Lawrence 14; Delap, 45), Diao, Whelan, Tuncay; Fuller, Sidibe. Substitutes not used: Simonsen (gk), Beattie, Kitson, Pugh. Booked: Stoke City Wilkinson.

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Referee: M Clattenburg (Durham).

Man of the match: Wright-Phillips.

Attendance: 28,019.

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