Neil Warnock: Golden opportunity for battling Barrow to sprinkle some magic on the FA Cup

What I Learnt This Week
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The Independent Football

At first sight today's FA Cup draw looks a disappointing one, and not just because it sends me to Hillsborough, but there are a few gems in there. Forest versus Birmingham looks a really good game, there'll be a great atmosphere at Old Trafford with Leeds visiting, and more than a few following what happens to Manchester City at Middlesbrough, but the tie which caught my eye is Sunderland against Barrow.

To me it's what the FA Cup is all about. I can imagine all the Barrow fans travelling to Sunderland – and probably outshouting them. It's a great tie for Barrow to make a few quid and I'm pleased for them as I've had a soft spot for the club ever since I was managing Burton and we were battling it out to get into the Conference. Barrow were the Man United of the Northern Premier League at the time, with Vic Halom, an old Sunderland hero, their manager. They got massive crowds and we had some humdingers before they went up.

I've also a "fond" memory of playing against them when I was at Scunthorpe. I had the distinction of three different Barrow players being booked for chopping me down in the same game. In those days you could appeal against bookings and two of them did. I spoke up for them both at the old Victoria Hotel in Sheffield. One got off, the other didn't.

I think Liverpool will be OK at Reading and even though football's a funny game it's hard to imagine Boro beating Man City. I see Gordon Strachan says he's short of strikers. Last week I had six on the bench at Swansea. Everyone must have thought what an attacking attitude, but they were the only players I had available. Today at Sheff Wed I can't see us having enough to fill the bench. I always think it's a good opportunity to give youngsters experience, but I'm even running out of them.

2. Forest Green ready to bite like true underdogs

The tie I'll be looking out for tomorrow is Notts County against Forest Green. It's great to see some of my ex- players at County taking charge, Dave Kevan is caretaker and Tommy Johnson, Mark Draper and Michael Johnson are all involved. I won't envy them tomorrow though, a match like this is the worst you can have as a manager. The night before all you can think about is the embarrassment if things go wrong. Then on the day itself, once the players have gone out for the warm-up, you're sat in that dressing room a bag of nerves. You're on a hiding to nothing. I never worried about how we played as long as we got into the next round, because you never play well in those games.

I remember my second match in charge at Sheffield United we drew Rushden & Diamonds. We should have won by five at home but we gave them an equaliser. We had to go to Rushden and it was end-to-end stuff. I felt sick thoughout. I'd only just arrived at the club and thought: "this will be a good start if we lose this".

It was goalless at 90 minutes: Shaun Derry, who's now my skipper at Palace, scored, but they equalised. We finally won 6-5 on pens. We were in a relegation scrap at the time and I remember thinking, "if we get through this, we'll be alright in the league". We did, and we were.

For Forest Green the boot's on the other foot. It's great being the underdog. I remember when I was at Burton we drew Leicester City. They were our nearest top-flight club and had Gary Lineker and Alan Smith in attack. We were in the dressing room at Aldershot, where we had won in the second round (goals by Stuart Mell, a fireman, and Nigel Simms, a miner), when we heard the draw. Immediately we were dancing round the room.

We played at the Baseball Ground, Derby's old ground where the stands were really close to the pitch, and were doing well when Paul Evans, our goalkeeper, was knocked out by a lump of wood thrown from the terraces occupied by Leicester fans. After a big row the FA allowed a re-match and we only lost 1-0.

There'll be two or three players in the Forest Green team who've ended up there for one reason or another but who should really be much higher up the system. They will be the ones who will lift themselves. I wonder what Sven will make of it.

Later tomorrow Wolves are at Tranmere. I think it'll be hard for them on a heavy pitch, especially as Mick might rest a few. Clint Hill's been training up there and he says they are really buzzing under Les Parry, the physio, who's taken over.

3. Irvine deserved more time to turn the tide

There were a couple more managerial departures this week, the surprise being Alan Irvine at Preston, a man I have the highest respect for. Having taken Preston into the play-offs last year in difficult circumstances I did feel he might have been given more time to turn around the season. But, as so often, it may be what is being said in public is not the whole story.

4. Why I'll soon be cooking up a storm

For 20 years now I've told Sharon and the kids I'm the best scone-maker in the world. I thought this Christmas, what with Sharon getting her new tea service, it was time to prove it. So one day, when there was just me and William in the house, I left him on his Wii and got my apron on.

I made sure I had all the ingredients, then got to work. I made a dozen, out of which there were six good ones. Like any artist I didn't show the bad six, I shared them with the dogs. Then I made the finger sandwiches. I cut the ends of the bread, filled them with prawns, roast beef, ham, cheese, you name it. I got everything ready for when the girls came home. But first William said, "I've got stomach ache", and went off to be sick. Then Amy said she'd had tea at her friend's house. So we ended up round the table, one holding his stomach, the other blowing hers out, but everybody had to agree the scones were fantastic.

Flushed with this success I've decided my New Year's resolution is that I'm going to start cooking. I see these TV chefs drinking a bottle of wine and cooking and think, "That's a good idea". Living in Cornwall, as we will be eventually, I'll specialise in fish. My favourite fish is Dover sole, so I need to find a good supplier.

5. Surely not a changing of the guard at Palace

I was in my local branch of WH Smith this week and the assistant said to me, "Did you used to be a football manager?" I said, "Do you know something I don't?" He looked a bit blank, then his colleague said, "He is, he's Crystal Palace's manager." The bloke said, "Oh, sorry."

6. How to put the kids to bed at Christmas

Why is it that at Christmas time, when you are absolutely shattered, and want to go to bed, the kids are still flying? The other night me and Sharon walked upstairs and asked the kids to lock up. That can't be right. And they are still buzzing in the morning. Mind, I remember saying to my Mum when I was young, "Mummy, I don't understand. When I want to stay up you send me to bed, and when I want to stay in bed you get me up." I thought it was good for a six-year-old.

7. Broad spell rekindled memories of Ashes glory

One of our Christmas highlights was watching the cricket. That spell of bowling by Stuart Broad took me back to The Oval when I watched him go through the Aussies. William and I were jumping up and down, high-fiving. It was a fantastic effort from the team. However, being English you now expect us to get walloped in Cape Town. It would be typical.

8. Happy new year to all my journalist readers ...

And finally, I'd like to wish good health and happiness in 2010 to all my readers, even those journalists who read it but don't like to admit it. We all have a guilty pleasure, eh?

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