Neil Warnock: I only really tipped Bayern because I thought it was April Fool's Day...

What I Learnt This Week
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The Independent Football

What a gripping week of Champions League football. Who would have thought Manchester United would have looked so vulnerable at the back? Sir Alex Ferguson will be desperate to have Rio Ferdinand back, but he will have to avoid rushing him back too quickly and put him out for the season. I jumped up when Carlos Tevez scored, only to get the sucker punch with Porto's last-gasp equaliser. Although everyone on the night said United still have a great chance of going through, not many teams win there.

Then we had Chelsea's comeback at Anfield. It looked at first like Real Madrid all over again, but whereas Real fell apart Chelsea showed what a good side they can be. I've not seen them play like that for a couple of years. The passing had to be so incisive as Liverpool were closing down so quickly. Michael Essien's man-marking of Steven Gerrard showed his value, and it made you wonder how Chelsea's season might have gone but for his injury. It underlines that any club struggles to replace its best players, even one with world-class players in abundance in reserve.

And what about events at the Nou Camp? By now you will have guessed I only tipped Bayern Munich to get to the final as I thought it was 1 April last weekend. Who in their right mind would go against Barcelona and the best player in the world, Lionel Messi? Bayern were destroyed, but you have to remember they conceded five last Saturday in a Bundesliga fixture. It shows how fragile confidence is in players. Is it really only four weeks ago that Manchester United seemed invincible? Now you almost expect Sunderland to get a result today, and don't they need it? Just like the other two sides in the North-east.

Today sees the final throw of the dice for Middlesbrough. Anything less than a win and it is just a question of who goes down with them and West Bromwich. Sunderland are doing their best to dig Newcastle out of the mire. Their plummet is becoming a waking nightmare for my assistant manager, Mick Jones, who is a mad red-and-white. When I said the other day: "It would be nice to see Alan Shearer pull a few results off," the air went blue and Mick said: "Are you joking? I hope they lose every game."

It will be interesting to see how Newcastle cope today. They'll be running out on the windiest ground in the country, the pitch will be hard and the ball boys all ready to give Rory Delap a hand with their towels.



2. Twice a loser on the Grand National

We had a Grand National sweepstake on the bus on the way to Loftus Road last weekend. I gave the players a newspaper with the names in it to organise it. When they came round to me, they asked for a tenner. I said: "I only want one go." They said: "That's it, a tenner a ticket." I told them the first time I did a sweepstake I won and the winnings were only a tenner. Mind, the tickets only cost 2/6 a go. Some of the lads looked at me as if to ask: "What's two-and-six?" I decided not to go into it. Anthony Stokes won the sweep. Mine's probably still running.

I also backed My Will. I had to, with William being my son. It came third, but being only 8-1 I hadn't bothered with an each-way bet.

So, it wasn't because I was celebrating that I was up at half-one on Saturday night. The kids were due back from their ski trip at 1am so we found ourselves outside the school with five or six other cars. They rolled in at half-past having had a great time, black runs and everything. You'd have thought after a week away they would be wanting to see their mum and dad but we've hardly seen them since, it's been sleepovers and stopovers all week. Still, it's Amy's birthday next week, so we expect to see a bit of her before then.



3. My bonding exercise with a guinea pig

We've had a guinea pig escape in the new house and unfortunately lost her. She's been replaced by a rabbit called Gracie and another guinea pig called Rodney. They're babies and Sharon told me I have to bond with them, so I found myself at breakfast time in my pyjamas talking to a ginger-haired guinea pig in the backyard for 20 minutes. The whole time I was thinking: "If anyone could see me now."

4. Scottish V-sign pair failed to engage brains

I'm not surprised Barry Ferguson and Allan McGregor both received life bans from the Scotland national team after their bad behaviour. It was appalling. To me, making those rude gestures was like doing it to the fans. I bet both regret it bitterly now but I don't think they appreciated the seriousness of it. With a lot of things players do, they don't engage their brain first. I said to my lads, when we first met, I'll give them leeway and trust them, but if they let me down that's another matter.



5. Old boys in the mix for League Two promotion

Having written about League One last week, I thought this week I'd have a glance at League Two where it looks as if Andy Scott will take Brentford back up. Wycombe have shown it is difficult to go top and stay there, and Brentford have stuttered a bit, but I think they have enough of a gap to go up. I hope so. Scott is a Blade, and they do play in the right colours.

The other promotion places are up for grabs but I'd love to see Keith Hill, who played for me at Plymouth, take Rochdale up. I think they were last promoted 40 years ago. He is one of the last people you'd think would become a manager, but he's done brilliantly. Another old boy involved is Stuart McCall. I hear he's said he may call it a day if Bradford are not promoted but that is what you get when you are a young manager starting off. You get frustrated at times, but Stuart is a super coach. He was tremendous for me at Sheffield United and, irrespective of whether they go up, Bradford can only be a better place with Stuart around. I hope he understands it is all a matter of experience as he will go on to bigger things. When you are a young guy you do let disappointment get to you too much.

Exeter have done really well. They have taken Stuart Fleetwood on loan from Charlton. We looked at him when he was banging them in for Forest Green, but thought he would lack a bit at Championship level. He is a good finisher, and if the two he got for them last week set him off on a run, I can't see why Exeter can't win their second successive promotion, having come up from the Conference last year.

Mark Stimson's also done well at Gillingham after a difficult start. It probably helps that his chairman now lives in Dubai. Always difficult those conversations with someone abroad. "Hello? Hello? I'm losing you chairman..." We've all done it.

Congratulations to Luton for winning at Wembley last week. I felt pleased for Mick Harford who's a super guy, and it was only fair their fans should enjoy such a wonderful moment. I do think they were short-changed having so many points deducted. I bet they will be looking closely at the Southampton inquiry.

And a word of praise too for Eddie Howe at Bournemouth. They looked dead and buried when he took over, what with all the points deductions, but they've had a great run and he deserves to keep them up.

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