Neil Warnock: Referees and their penalty decisions... some things never seem to get better

What I Learnt This Week
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The Independent Football

Is it me, or are referees becoming more nervous about giving penalties than ever? I suspect Owen Coyle and Martin O'Neill will agree with me.

Martin was obviously unhappy about the penalty Villa didn't get from Howard Webb at Wembley last weekend and I don't blame him. I have always thought Howard, a South Yorkshireman like myself, is a top ref but this season I've seen a definite change in his body language. There is an edginess to his game that was not there before and it must be down to confidence.

I do think a penalty that was given, has been a factor in the ones that haven't been. I'm talking about the one Mike Dean gave at Burnley for Blackburn. The fact that TV showed Mike made a monumental error has made referees wary of giving decisions, especially against top teams, because they know they will be pilloried by everyone; instead they are being pilloried for not giving them.

I did think it was astounding that Martin Olsson admitted he knew Mike Dean gave a lot of penalties, so he had no hesitation in going down. I find it strange he was not charged with ungentlemanly conduct.

When I look back at that, and think of the consequences it may have for Burnley at the end of the season, in a funny way I feel a lot better about the decisions Sheffield United got against them when I was managing them in the Premier League. At least it isn't just us. That season we should have had a concrete penalty at Old Trafford, which would have resulted in a red card, late in the season, and in the opening game the same ref, Rob Styles, gave a penalty against us for "intent" after Steven Gerrard had jumped over Chris Morgan's legs but seen his shot saved. We were eventually relegated by a goal difference of one goal and you do find yourself looking back at decisions like that. I'm sure Brian Laws will think about that penalty if Burnley don't stay up.

Thinking back to Wembley, and Bolton at Stamford Bridge, it also does appear, as Tony Pulis and Owen Coyle said this week, that the big teams get the decisions.

2. I'll always cherish Palace's right royal reception

I had the most unreal afternoon of my managerial career last Saturday. I can honestly say I've never felt as sick to my stomach as I did from lunchtime until getting home at night. The game flew by and we played as well as we have since I arrived, but having left Crystal Palace just a few weeks ago it was difficult. I expected a barrage of criticism when I came out but the Palace fans were fantastic and I have to say their reception made me feel quite emotional. When the Rangers fans asked for a wave later on I couldn't bring myself to do it in front of the Palace fans because I felt so much respect for them.

Over the last two-and-a-half years I don't think I have ever worked as hard at a football club and we really had achieved an awful lot – and people don't know half the things that go on behind the scenes. The last six months were particularly difficult and I can't praise the players at Palace enough for the way they handled everything, so although we were very good on the day I actually felt gutted for the lads I'd left behind, and the fans, and I couldn't wait to get off at the end.

The points were obviously welcome. While we had only lost two games in the 10 since I've been at Rangers, we hadn't won for seven. Even so, we're still scrapping to get the points on board to ensure we have Championship football at Loftus Road again next season and today face Cardiff who are hoping to be in the Premier League next season.

Last year I thought they'd win the play-offs and was surprised when they did not even qualify, this year I'm sure they'll be in the play-offs. Then on Tuesday it's another relegation battle with Watford. Like us they started the season well but will be happy when it ends, if it ends the right way. I've a lot of time for Malky Mackay, their manager, who has done a good job in difficult circumstances.

3. A case of laughing in the face of adversity

There was an unbelievable, shocking start, to Saturday's game. From kick-off the ball was played down the line, Calvin Andrews and Damion Stewart both went up for the ball and battered each other. Damion was completely out of it, Calvin somehow got up and carried on for a while with a lump the size of an egg on the back of his head, and I don't mean a chicken's egg, more like an ostrich's.

Damion was carried off and taken to hospital. Straight after the game we were informed scans had shown a crack in the skull and some blood around the area which were giving concern to the neurologists, but I am pleased to say that he was discharged yesterday. The doctors will continue to monitor him and hopefully he will get the all-clear to start pre-season training.

I told the squad on Thursday there'd been a major development with Damion. They looked at me nervously. So I told them the neurosurgeon had a problem with the brain scan: he couldn't find a brain. When I told Damion he laughed, you can laugh at adversity when you know everything is all right.

4. Hard-working Brown deserves final flourish

I was delighted for Michael Brown after Sunday's FA Cup semi-final because hard-working lads like him don't normally get the rewards they are due. Yes, Portsmouth needed a bit of luck, and a ploughed field to play on – which really is comical for the cost of the Wembley project – but it shows what football is all about. Shortly beforehand I spoke on the phone to one of this newspaper's reporters. He said he was at Wembley expecting a boring afternoon watching Spurs annihilate Portsmouth. I said to him, "funny things happen in football". All credit to Avram Grant for the win, and then he makes eight changes at Wigan. He must have been laughing his head off when they drew. The way things are going, Portsmouth's final against Chelsea could prove one of the biggest upsets of all.

I'm delighted to see Chris Foy being given the opportunity to referee the final. He's one of the best referees around. We had him earlier in the season. I said to him afterwards, "the first half was the worst 45 minutes I've ever seen you referee, the second half was the best 45 minutes. So how do I mark you?"

5. A music lesson that the kids won't forget

What did I do to relax this week? I went to watch Dancing in the Streets at Richmond Theatre. Boy, did the location bring back memories; it was as beautiful as the Lyceum in Sheffield I frequented when I was younger, with an equally wonderful décor inside. And the music was fantastic: the songs of Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, the Four Tops, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Jimmy Ruffin, Marvin Gaye ... brilliant.

The only problem is we don't have any babysitters yet so we had to take William and Amy with us. After half an hour William took his shoes off, wrapped himself up in his seat and whispered, "Dad, I don't know any words to any of these songs." I said, "I know that son, but this is for me tonight and you want me to enjoy it, don't you?" Then my favourite dance record came on, "How sweet it is to be loved by you" . Will's heard it about 100 times, so he knew all the words, and we all ended up standing, clapping and waving our arms. I said to Amy, "I can't see them playing JLS in 30 years' time."

6. Hughton has earned return to the top flight

The automatic promotion places have been decided in our division and I'd like to congratulate Chris Hughton and Roberto Di Matteo. Chris has really done a superb job. He started the campaign with all that uncertainty but quietly got on with the job of getting Newcastle back into the top flight. I hope he gets the chance to build on that next season.

At West Brom, chairman Jeremy Peace has some critics but you have to admire how he runs the club when you look at the Portsmouths of this world. I like to think they will stay up and finally crack it at the top level

7. Why I'll be barefoot in the park from now on

Last weekend we had the first of what I hope will be many picnics in Richmond Park. I will have to be on my toes there, though. I dropped a scotch egg and a great big black bird, a raven or crow, zoomed down, picked it up and flew off. The kids loved it. You could spend all day in that park, there's such a lot to do, and it's a great way to get the kids away from the TV. Still, the are some downsides to living here. It cost £5 to have the car washed in Beckenham, it's £10 here. We're going to pay Amy and William £2.50 each, though William will need a ladder.

Washing the car will be the perfect way for Amy to start her birthday today. She's 12, but already I find myself nearly saying to Sharon: "Is she going out dressed like that?"