Neil Warnock: I only gave instructions to ballboys once – and that was to tell them to play fair
The prominence given to the incident took the gloss off one of the most professional performances i've seen from a top-flight underdog
I was surprised when I picked up the papers this morning to find plastered across one tabloid back page the banner headline "Warnock taught us ballboy tactics". Inside were some quotes from Matt Lowton, now at Aston Villa, but a junior at Sheffield United when I was there, suggesting I taught the ballboys gamesmanship.
It came as news to me. I never spoke to the apprentices or the ballboys, who had their own organiser. The only time I said anything at Bramall Lane regarding ballboys was when we had the multi-ball system and in one game they gave the opposition the ball back quicker than they did our players. Even then I asked my assistant, Mick Jones, to pass on the message that they should make sure to give it back to us quickly too. Obviously the paper concerned had nothing to write about today.
That they gave the story such prominence showed just how much the ballboy incident at the Liberty Stadium took the gloss off one of the most professional performances I've seen from a top-flight underdog. Chelsea just ran out of ideas in the end. Michael Laudrup deserves a massive pat on the back for the way he has taken Swansea City further forward this year. I was delighted for Huw Jenkins, who has run the club so creditably. I'm sure Bradford will think they have already had their final in getting to Wembley, but after a couple of weeks calming down they will want to give it a go.
Both second legs showed at times that it pays not to have as many attackers as fans urge you to put on when you need a goal. What tends to happen is you put them up the middle and you play into the hands of the defenders because there is not enough width in the attack and not enough space in the centre. Villa midfielders kept looking in vain to play the ball wide before sending long balls into the box from deep. Bradford get that all day in League Two. Chelsea ended with Ba and Torres up front but no wide man.
We'll enjoy Spurs tie
It'll be just like the old days at Elland Road on Sunday when Tottenham Hotspur come to Leeds United for a televised FA Cup tie. It will be tough. I was sat there watching them play Manchester United last week thinking, "We won't get a kick." They had 61 per cent possession, against the champions-elect! But, while we won't kid ourselves how difficult it will be, the FA Cup is a great competition and with no points at stake we can go out and enjoy it. The lads defied the odds in winning at Birmingham in the last round and they have another chance to shine in front of a big crowd and a TV audience.
I'm sure Dioufy [El Hadji Diouf] is looking forward to it, he revels in these games. So should young Sam Byram, who I'll be turning to in the dressing room and telling, "Your job is to keep Gareth Bale quiet." Sam was playing for the Under-18s at the start of the season and probably wouldn't have got near the first team if I had landed all my summer transfer targets. But he's done brilliantly. Now he'll face his most difficult match yet, marking one of the world's best, but I've every confidence in him.
It'll be nice to welcome Andre Villas-Boas who after a difficult start has adapted really well to life at Spurs. Last weekend the team gave him everything. He must be finding it a dream working there after the tricky situation he found at Chelsea.
Window is unsettling
It is that time of year when clubs are linked with umpteen players and we're no exception. All manner of names have been mentioned in connection with us, many of them flights of fancy. Still, it's an ill wind as they say. Nottingham Forest's Dexter Blackstock was linked and he was given a new four-and-a-half-year contract, so he owes me big time. Then there is Stephen Warnock. There is an obvious temptation to sign him – if the fans start chanting "Warnock out" I'll take him off.
One player who might be leaving us, though I hope he does not, is Luciano Becchio. Our top scorer put in a transfer request. Although the club offered him a new three-and-a-half-year contract, which would make him by far the highest wage earner, he's declined it. I'll have to see if anything materialises before the end of month; if it doesn't he'll have to knuckle down and wait for the summer.
I'm confident if he does stay he won't be a problem – scoring more goals is the best way for him to impress potential buyers. But as any manager in this position will tell you, until that deadline passes I am afraid it is difficult for players to concentrate on the job at hand.
Chris deserves a clap
In the third minute of tomorrow's FA Cup tie between Reading and Sheffield United, fans are going to honour Chris Armstrong, who played for both teams, wearing No 3, before being forced to retire at the age of 28 due to multiple sclerosis. I'll have a little clap too.
Chris, who played for me at Sheffield United, is a gem of a person and as dedicated a professional as I've met. When he was younger he had such a bad knee injury I thought he'd never play again at that level. He could have made a packet out of the insurance but he defied the odds to come back. Then he was cruelly struck down by MS, an illness which obviously I am all too aware of because it killed my mother.
All the moaning we do in football pales into insignificance when you think of what Chris has had to go through in his life.
Derry heeds advice
Congratulations to Shaun Derry on signing a new contact at my old club QPR. I bet he's glad he listened to me 18 months ago when he said he wanted to go back to Crystal Palace and I said to him, "You can't afford to turn the Premier League down, Sean, it is a short life."
I was really chuffed also to see Clint Hill named as Rangers' captain for the rest of the season. He's another player who must be pinching himself at the moment. He thought he'd be shown the door way before Christmas, but when you have an attitude like Clint it rubs off and I am sure Harry Redknapp has seen that, hence the reason he has been made captain.
We got hockey bug
I went home at the weekend and saw William play his first hockey match of the season. Sharon and me were watching as the team fell behind 3-1 with 15 minutes to go. It didn't look promising but they pulled one back, then William equalised. He looked over and we were jumping up together hugging and kissing. It is amazing what you do with your own kids. Believe it or not, the boys then won it with the last hit of the match. We had a team photo after as a memento as they'll never have a more exciting ending.
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