Writer: Niall Cope
Date:Friday February 1 2013
The January transfer window brought down the curtain on two of Stoke City`s most influential players in recent years.
Danny Higginbotham secured a permanent transfer to League 1 side Sheffield United before Rory Delap signed on loan until the end of the season at Barnsley, effectively bringing his time at the club to an end with his current contract set to expire in the summer.
The pair have been instrumental during the club`s rise from mid-table mediocrity in the Championship to becoming an established Premier League side and they will be undoubtedly receive a warm welcome from everyone at the club should they return in the future.
Higginbotham and Delap gave the club 12 years service between them and more than played their part in some of the club`s most iconic moments over the last few seasons.
It didn`t get off to the best of starts for Delap, though, after sustaining a leg break on his home debut against parent club Sunderland in October 2006. The injury saw him miss the remainder of the season but the club stood by the former Republic of Ireland midfielder after going ahead with a planned permanent move.
The following season, Delap was a regular performer in the team that clinched promotion to the Premier League in 2008 with his trademark long-throw contributing towards the goal count.
However it was during the club`s first season back in the top-flight of English football for 23 years that Delap would have his biggest impact.
His long-throws had teams shaking in their boots as he hurled countless balls into the oppositions` penalty area with pace and low trajectory. The most poignant throw-in surely has to be the one that Big Mama Sidibe directed towards goal in the last minute to secure the club`s first Premier League victory at the Britannia Stadium.
Danny Higginbotham returned to the club on deadline day after previously captaining the Potters towards the end of the 2006/2007season before moving to Sunderland for a year.
He more than played his part in that first top-flight season and within seven weeks scored his first goal by netting the first from the penalty spot as Stoke ran out 2-1 winners against Tottenham, a game in which Delap scored what proved to be the winner.
The two continued to be bedrocks of the side over the course of the next two seasons despite manager Tony Pulis adding further additions to his squad which was testament to their professionalism to stay fit and fight off the competition for places.
Delap used the summer of 2010 to raise money for the Donna Louise Children`s Hospice in Stoke. The midfielder put himself through a gruelling 3-day charity bike ride from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to Edinburgh.
It was during the famous run to the FA Cup Final in 2011 that both players wrote their name into Stoke City folklore but it would be tinged in disappointment for Higginbotham.
The defender rifled in the winner in the quarter-final against West Ham United after Rory Delap`s long-throw was headed in by Robert Huth to open the scoring.
A couple of weeks before the semi-final at Wembley, Higginbotham suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury in the last few minutes of the Premier League game against Chelsea.
Delap played a central role in the 5-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers in the semi-final and went on to play in the disappointing May final against Manchester City.
After securing entry into the Europa League the following season it allowed Delap to leave his mark on the continent with his long-throws and he helped the club reach the last 32 of the competition before losing to eventual semi-finalists, Valencia.
Higginbotham only played a handful of games during the 2011/12 season because of that injury against Chelsea and he was subsequently sent out on loan to Nottingham Forrest to help their bid to stay in the Championship before returning early after picking up a further injury.
Both players were given contract extensions by Tony Pulis because of their contribution to the club, however with a solitary substitute appearance between them this season it was clear that their time at Stoke City was coming to end.
The pair have mustered up some memorable moments over the past six years that they themselves will cherish for the rest of their lives as well as the club`s fans who will always acknowledge their immense contribution.
Higginbotham and Delap may not be the most glamorous players with their plain black boots and old fashioned hair styles, but they are two players who are thoroughly professional and will forever have a place in the hearts of Stoke City supporters.
Date:Friday February 1 2013
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