There are people out there who think this season's Championship is the worst in years but watching it close up I can't agree. There's some good teams in it and one thing is certain, it is the most exciting division in England. In the Premier League many results are predictable – not in our league. Barnsley's 3-0 win at Watford highlighted how open it is. After the disappointment of the FA Cup semi-final everyone expected them to nosedive to relegation. It was a fantastic achievement and well done to Kayode Odejayi for scoring a couple. No one will have enjoyed his miss at Wembley – except for Cardiff fans – so credit to him.
That win really puts the pressure on the "big teams" at the bottom: Leicester City, Southampton, Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry City. I bet at the start of season those clubs had play-off aspirations. Now they will be looking at the other end. Normally I would say 50 points is enough for survival but Leicester have 47 already. I reckon teams will go down with more points than ever.
There's more pressure at the bottom than the top, but I still sensed the other night that Stoke's players were a little bit nervous. Our great win there was one of two cracking games I was at this week, the other being the Sheffield derby.
Monday at Stoke was hard work. I'm told William, my lad, thumped the settee when they pulled a goal back. Then he did a somersault on the rug when the whistle went. It's not taken him long to switch from being a Sheffield United fan to a Crystal Palace one.
Having followed United for 50 years it's a bit harder for me which is why Tuesday night was a very strange feeling. As a United fan, I still wanted United to win especially as a lot of the players were there with me, and I know Kevin Blackwell the manager, but as Crystal Palace manager I didn't want them to win. So a draw was a good result.
It was odd, after eight years as manager, being at Bramall Lane as a spectator on matchday. It was interesting to see what happens away from the dressing room. I went with my eldest daughter, Natalie, and we had a meal beforehand. I'd never been able to do that before as I was too nervous to eat.
It was a great atmosphere with 31,700 fans. It just shows there are more than enough fans to support two teams in the city. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before Wednesday get a huge investor. It's a massive club but needs a big injection of cash.
One point I do want to make, at a time when refs are being criticised again, is how impressed I was with both officials on Monday and Tuesday. Mark Clattenburg reffed our game and, as I said a few weeks ago, he's back to his best. Steve Bennett did the derby. I've been one of his biggest critics because of how much of a stickler he is for the rules, but I thought him and his linesmen were fantastic. I was so surprised at him. He used common sense all the time and was right on top of the game.
2. Enjoy a bit of needle
I did a lot of driving last week and when I got back on Wednesday night I could hardly move. When Sharon got in the car she discovered I'd clicked a button, or lever somewhere and had this lumbar thing stuck in my back. Come the morning she had to put my socks on for me. Talk about feeling old. I went in on Thursday to take training and the physio put me on the bike to loosen it up then gave me a massage. It was still agony so he suggested acupuncture.
As you might have guessed, I'm not the sort of bloke to go in for acupuncture in a million years, but I was in so much pain I agreed. So there I was. Lying flat out with needles being stuck in me. I bet a lot of football fans up and down the country would had loved to be in the acupuncturist's position, only they would have wanted to use knitting needles. I can report that it works. I had a decent night's sleep and felt much better yesterday.
My pain did at least get me some sympathy at home. Normally when I've been away so long Sharon lines the kids up and introduces them to me. I was spared that, though Amy missed me so much she immediately disappeared on a sleepover. Another sign that my little girl is growing up. She'll be in double-digits next week as it is her tenth birthday. Frightening.
Even William seems older every time I go away for a few days. It was his spelling he stunned me with this week. It's come on so quickly. He'll be proof-reading the column soon.
3. Best foot forward
We've bought another puppy, a Norfolk Terrier, to keep the Griffon company. He was barking all night and we thought he might be lonely. It looks like we were right as he now sleeps through. Percy and Donald have really brightened everything up. I never thought I'd like little dogs but it's so much fun watching them.
They are not quite house-trained though. I was playing football with William in the house, so he was wearing socks, when suddenly he found a puddle. As I said to him, "it could have been worse – it could have been me that stood in it."
4. Unlucky Arsenal
Poor old Arsenal. Dear me. In the last four or five games every major decision has gone against them. Arsène must think they have run over a black cat. I still think they are capable of winning at Old Trafford tomorrow, but if they lose that's their season over.
Meanwhile there is a quiet team that is lurking like assassins, Chelsea. Avram Grant has good players and he just keeps them ticking over: he's not made them more attractive though, not in a million years.
5. Lunch at the Palace
We had a VIP guest at the training ground this week, Graham Snell, the Independent reader who bid £3,700 in the Christmas Charity Auction to attend a day's training with us.
Graham brought his son, William. They had plenty of photos and autographs, and Will enjoyed a kickaround with the lads. Then we had lunch together in the canteen. We don't have one of those fancy Italian chefs like some clubs, we have Beverley. You have to be impressed with Bev's cooking – and if you're not, you don't complain!
6. Tiger's a true Master
You need to relax a bit at this time of the season and I like sitting back and watching the Masters. The timing's perfect, like the cricket is from the West Indies. It's incredible watching Tiger. No one should be that good, it's not fair. Looking at him on the 18th tee the other night, there were spectators lining the fairway for about 100 yards. I said to Sharon: "If that were me on the tee you'd have to move all those before I had a swing."
7. 100 sold, but barely a word about Palace
I've just done a couple of book signings at Bromley and Beckenham. One of them was at the WH Smith's which did not have my book in when I started at Palace. When I asked about it they said, "We can order one in for you, sir". Then the staff member added, "I'm a big Palace fan myself".
I signed nearly 100 books. It is a great read, but there's barely a word about Palace in it. Do you think I should have told them to wait for the paperback, which will have a new chapter about this season?Reuse content