Neil Warnock: It has been an up-and-down season but it looks over now
What I Learnt This Week
I was not looking forward to yesterday's game at Reading. We had so many players out, or under par with knocks or illness, I was worried we would concede seven again, but the players gave me everything and I went back to Yorkshire last night disappointed we didn't get at least a point. We created the two best chances in the second half and if we'd taken either I couldn't see Reading getting back into it.
I knew it would be tough even before we had young Zac Thompson sent off early on. It was a harsh decision – I've seen a lot worse go unpunished. In fact, Danny Pugh made one later on in the half and he wasn't even booked while the worst challenge of the game was by Noel Hunt on our keeper. But the Madejski has always been an intimidating place to come. The players roll around and the referee gets surrounded. You can't tell me that doesn't influence decisions. I always seem to have someone sent off there. We need to make Elland Road the same fortress next season.
We had an awful build-up. With three players suspended and four out injured, I decided to give Ramon Nunez and Andy O'Brien a chance. I told them both on Monday they'd be playing. Andy pulled up on Wednesday with a hamstring problem; Ramon had a calf injury on Thursday. Another lad was away with a family health problem, Ross McCormack played with a tight hamstring and Alex Bruce with a broken nose.
I felt a little bit sorry for West Ham, Reading's promotion rivals. When we played them a couple of weeks ago we had a full squad and but for a last-minute equaliser we'd have won. It shows that when you play a team during a season can be important: whether you catch them in a good run, or when they have a lot of players absent, can make a big difference.
Yesterday's result probably finishes the season for us. The gap's too big now unless something remarkable happens. It's disappointing, but the good thing about being here at Leeds is the majority of fans understand the situation we're in and they are as tolerant as you can get.
It is difficult as a manager when you know you can't really wait for the season to end and you can get cracking on the next one. I never thought I'd have another summer of recruitment like I did when I took over at QPR, but it looks like it will have to be another busy one.
I'm lucky in that I've not often been in this situation over the years: at this stage I've usually been chasing promotion, or, a couple of times, fighting relegation. However, this is a chance to look at players and I learnt a few things about one or two yesterday that surprised me – good things. The question now is: Can they keep that up over the next five games?
2 A real rollercoaster ride for us – and I kept my eyes open
We went to Flamingo Land on Tuesday; it's Yorkshire's Alton Towers and they are sponsors of our academy. It was an open invite to the players and despite the cold and damp it was a good turnout with plenty of them coming along with their families. It's great to put something back in – sponsors are often taken for granted at a lot of clubs. A lot of fans came along as well to see us and enjoy the rides.
Our family stayed Monday night in a log cabin on site and you could easily live in somewhere like that. You have to ask why there aren't more of those instead of houses.
We were largely left to our own devices aside from a couple of photo-shoots. One of them was on a rollercoaster with motorbike-type seats. I thought we were only sitting on it for a picture, then it took off! It gets up to something like 100mph in four seconds. All I kept saying was "oh my goodness". Still, at least I kept my eyes open: we're trying to identify the player in the photo (above) who's covered up.
While I enjoyed loads of the rides, one of the best parts for me was the zoo. We got to see the rhinos really up close and were even able to stroke them – through bars, with gloves on. It was amazing to feel their power.
The thing I noticed most about the day, and the previous night, was how accommodating the staff were at the complex. So thanks to all of them.
We were supposed to go on Wednesday, but brought the day forward because the Reading game was switched from today for TV. I'm glad it was. Tuesday night I've never known wind and rain like it. There was snow in a lot of places and while we just had water we had lots of it.
3 Happy 90th birthday to one of the game's real gentlemen
I never saw Tom Finney play – I'm too young, despite what some of you might think – but over the years I met him in the boardroom whenever I played Preston. I never heard him say a bad word about anyone, and never heard anybody say a bad word about him. He is a complete gentleman and I can't imagine what he'd have been worth in today's transfer market.
You always hear what a great winger he was; he was also one of the best headers there's ever been. Happy 90th birthday, Tom.
4 Southgate would be a great pick as FA technical director
It seems Gareth Southgate is one of the front-runners to be the new technical director at the FA. He's just the type of person we need. Gareth's very good with people and I'm sure he would say the right things to the FA hierarchy, yet he also has very strong opinions on the game and I don't think he would be steamrollered into anything he didn't approve of. He's got a lot of football experience at many levels and the respect of people in the game.
5 Petrov's leukaemia battle can give Villa a lift
My prayers go out to Stiliyan Petrov; we all wish him well and I can't wait to see him back in a Villa shirt. He's a superb professional and I'm sure, with the support of everyone in football, he'll fight all the way.
Petrov's situation puts any relegation battle into context, but it is amazing how something like that can affect squad in a positive manner. Look at how Bolton have responded to Fabrice Muamba's health problems, with Owen Coyle picking up Manager of the Month. I imagine Alex McLeish must be hoping for a similar response from the Villa players to eliminate the threat of relegation as soon as possible, though obviously his first thoughts will be for Stiliyan.
6 I'm rooting for local boy Westwood in the Masters
Watching the Masters this weekend, I'll be rooting for Lee Westwood. Worksop's not far from my hometown Sheffield and he's definitely a local as far as I'm concerned. He made a great start Thursday and I hope he has kept it up overnight.
I've picked up the clubs again myself and have played a few times at a lovely little nine-hole course called the Village near where I live. It's pay-as-you-play but it is in fabulous condition. I've played with both sons, James and William. It's just my length – 300 yards is the longest hole.
7 QPR won't make it easy, but United are favourites now
This weekend is a big one in the Premier League shake-up at top and bottom. I think Roberto Mancini realises if City lose tomorrow and United win it is curtains – I think a lot of people think it is already.
United will be looking to beat my old club QPR, who will be optimistic after a good win last week. It was great to see Adel Taarabt score his first Premier League goal – in fact, it was nice to see all the old lads come in to turn their season around, Jamie Mackie, Shaun Derry and Clint Hill, and Paddy Kenny's save against Robin van Persie at 1-1 was crucial too.
City are at Arsenal, which is not exactly where you want to go when needing a win. That promises to be a fabulous game and I can't wait to watch it.
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