THE best things in life are free is not a mantra many subscribe to in the Premier League.

Supporters of Stoke City might beg to differ however.

Not that the Potters are afraid to splash the cash.

For Saturday’s FA Cup third round clash against York City, Stoke fielded £23 million worth of talent, including seven full internationals with a combined haul of 121 caps between them.

The difference between non-League City and their top-flight hosts, though, was provided by a one-time Sunderland misfit who cost nothing when he swapped red-and-white striped allegiance three years ago.

Rory Delap, who last represented the Republic of Ireland in 2004, has since proven priceless at the Britannia Stadium, where his famous long throw claimed high-profile victims such as Arsenal and Aston Villa last season.

During 2009/10, Delap’s name has not always been one of the first on Tony Pulis’ team-sheet but it was the last visiting manager Martin Foyle wanted to see on Saturday afternoon.

Destined to become the first outfield professional heralded more for his ability to throw a football rather than kicking one, Delap’s contributions in open play against the Minstermen are, indeed, difficult to recall.

In fact, City’s hard-working pair Neil Barrett and Levi Mackin outshone Delap and his team-mate Dean Whitehead in the battle for midfield supremacy.

But two hulking hurls into the visitors’ six-yard box from Delap saw Stoke surge into a 2-1 lead just three minutes after Barrett had headed City in front midway through the first half.

A Matthew Etherington free-kick then completed the scoring on 58 minutes.

The Minstermen, though, gave a great account of themselves against a Stoke team that featured only three changes from the side that faced Birmingham in their last league fixture and one of those was enforced with centre-back Ryan Shawcross suspended.

Etherington caused City skipper Daniel Parslow a few problems with his direct running and Ricardo Fuller similarly troubled Luke Graham at times.

Perhaps just as unsurprising was how well Stoke defenders Leon Cort and Danny Collins shackled City strikers Richard Brodie and Michael Rankine.

But less expected was the dominance of Mackin and Barrett and a commanding performance by David McGurk that made one-time England striker James Beattie look distinctly ordinary before his 73rd-minute substitution.

James Meredith and Chris Carruthers also worked well in tandem to ensure the right-wing threat of Liam Lawrence was negligible and City coped well with Delap’s early touchline tormentors too.

The former Carlisle midfielder delivered three throw-ins in the opening four minutes, taking an unexpectedly short option with his first before Michael Ingham punched the next one away and Fuller then headed harmlessly wide.

At the other end, Rankine drove an ambitious effort across the face of goal from 30 yards as City seemed undaunted by their surroundings.

On the quarter-hour mark, Fuller charged down a Carruthers clearance and the ball spun into Ingham’s sidenetting but it was the visitors who broke the deadlock on 22 minutes.

Brodie drew a foul out of German international Robert Huth and, when Alex Lawless whipped in the subsequent free-kick from the left, Barrett found Danish number one Thomas Sorensen’s bottom left-hand corner in front of a packed away end.

It was a goal not dissimilar to Lawrie Sanchez’s for Wimbledon in the 1988 final and a great reward for City’s crazy gang of delirious supporters.

The fervour, however, was desperately short-lived.

Within two minutes, Delap’s long throw from the right was sliced horribly into the roof of the net by Parslow under pressure from Etherington on the far post three yards from goal.

Seconds later, Delap exercised his upper-body muscles again, this time from the left, with Cort heading against Rankine.

Fuller reacted quickest to head past Ingham from the rebound.

City might have folded at this point but Mackin forced a 30-yard save from Sorensen and McGurk headed wide from Lawless’ free-kick before the break.

In the second half, Brodie’s shot on the turn lacked the power to beat half-time substitute Steve Simonsen in the home goal.

Ingham, meanwhile, tipped over a Huth header but, after Rankine dragged a long-range strike wide from 30 yards, Meredith was booked for fouling Fuller 20 yards from goal on 58 minutes.

Former Spurs and West Ham winger Etherington then sent a curling effort into a motionless Ingham’s top right-hand corner.

Kevin Gall and Mackin both sliced wide at the other end while Ingham kept out a Mamady Sidibe shot at his near post before City’s supporters saluted the players’ brave efforts at the final whistle.

Match facts

Stoke City 3 (Parslow og 24; Fuller 25; Etherington 58), York City 1 (Barrett 22)

York City: Michael Ingham 7, Daniel Parslow 7, Luke Graham 7, David McGurk 9, James Meredith 8, Alex Lawless 7, Levi Mackin 9, Neil Barrett 9, Chris Carruthers 8, Michael Rankine 7, Richard Brodie 7.

Substitutions: Kevin Gall (for Meredith, 64), Ben Purkiss (for Daniel Parslow, 64), Andy Ferrell (for McGurk, 88). Not used: Pacquette, Sangare, Mimms, Gash.

Key: 10 – Faultless; 9 – Outstanding; 8 – Excellent; 7 – Good; 6 – Average; 5 – Below par; 4 – Poor; 3 – Dud; 2 – Hopeless; 1 – Retire.

City’s star man: Barrett – tireless display. A shame City fans could not savour his well-taken goal for longer.

Stoke: Thomas Sorensen (Steve Simonsen, 46), Robert Huth, Leon Cort, Danny Higginbotham, Danny Collins, Liam Lawrence, Rory Delap, Dean Whitehead, Matthew Etherington, James Beattie (Tuncay, 73), Ricardo Fuller (Mamady Sidibe, 81).

Subs not used: Glenn Whelan, Danny Pugh, Michael Tonge, Andy Wilkinson.

Booked: Delap 30, Graham 36, Meredith 57, Mackin 73, Ferrell 90, Huth 90.

Shots on target: Stoke 6, York 3.

Shots off target: Stoke 6, York 5.

Corners: Stoke 11, York 3.

Fouls conceded: Stoke 13, York 13.

Offsides: Stoke 1, York 1.

Referee: Mike Jones (Chester). Rating: no need for so many bookings and made the occasional glaring error.

Attendance: 15,586.

Header of the match: Barrett’s perfectly-guided opening goal for City.

Mistake of the match: The miscue by Parslow that gifted a swift equaliser.

Throw of the match: Another impressive fling by Delap for Fuller’s goal.

Head to head: Richard Brodie v Leon Cort

City’s 25-goal leading marksman had few sniffs of the home goal, going closest when he held off a Cort challenge only to scuff his shot at Simonsen.

Brodie did, however, win several valuable free kicks for his team, teasing fouls from Cort on a couple of occasions.

The ex-Southend defender, though, rarely looked troubled by Brodie’s pace and determination.