Neil Warnock: The table counts for absolutely nothing – a 4-1 beating is only ever one game away - News & Comment - Football - The Independent

Neil Warnock: The table counts for absolutely nothing – a 4-1 beating is only ever one game away

What I Learnt This Week

Some of you may have scoffed when I said in last week's column I wasn't taking anything for granted when it came to our league campaign, and that I expected a tough game against Scunthorpe regardless of their position in the table.

Well, it gave me no satisfaction whatsoever to be proved right when we lost 4-1. Fortunately we got back on track with a really good win at Barnsley on Tuesday but Scunthorpe certainly reminded all of us that nothing has been achieved yet.

I'm not making excuses, but the build-up to the game was difficult. It wasn't quite as bad as Harry changing his team minutes before kick-off in Madrid the other week, but there were a lot of complications with injuries and other issues. As a result I had to make three changes but it looked as if they had paid off when one of the players I brought in, Rob Hulse, put us ahead early on.

But then we forgot everything that has been good in our game. We conceded silly free-kicks, and allowed free headers from those free-kicks; Paddy Kenny made a rare error; then Clint Hill thought he was Beckenbauer and was caught out. I couldn't wait for the whistle to go by the end.

The last time I got beat 4-1 by anyone was when I managed at Crystal Palace. Have a guess who it was. Yes, Scunthorpe United, at Selhurst Park. I remember sitting with Simon Jordan afterwards saying I couldn't carry on, I couldn't get any more out of the team. I think I said "I couldn't get blood out of a stone" a few times, but he wouldn't have any of it. He knew me, knew how disappointed I was, and he said, "No, go home. We'll speak over the weekend but you're not going anywhere". If he'd not been a friend I'd have quit.

After a result like Saturday's you really want to go home, sleep in your own bed, get away from football for a few days. However, we had already decided to stay up north to save on the travelling. I wasn't sure this would work out but the lads enjoyed it. They played golf, went swimming, sat in the sauna. It was much better for their recovery than two long coach journeys. I was also able to shoot over to Leeds to see my grandson Charlie. Watching him laughing his head off in the bath while Sarah squirted water at him enabled me to forget all about Scunthorpe.

2. First time I've ever subbed a player for his own safety

At Oakwell Adel scored a wonderful goal after 47 seconds. However, sometimes the saying, "you can score too early" is true because Barnsley then felt they had nothing to lose and had a real go at us. Fortunately we defended magnificently from centre-forward backwards, though I was a bit concerned when six of their players surrounded the ref for a penalty shout.

The one that did upset me was a report in one of the lesser papers the following day which said: "Taarabt was lucky not to be sent off when he angrily kicked out 10 minutes before the break, boss Neil Warnock lost patience with his star player when he hauled him off midway through second half."

Well, that's completely wrong. There's no way I would have brought him off as I thought he was doing fine, even though the crowd were baiting him. But then there was a tackle on him from behind which was the most cynical foul you could imagine. It took both his legs. When the ref hesitated I thought he was just wondering, "red (which it should have been), or yellow?" Then he made a sign with his hands that the player got the ball. I thought, "if that's not even a foul it's going to be open season on Adel from now on". I was concerned the next challenge would be even worse and didn't feel I could put his career in jeopardy just to preserve our lead. So I took him off. In more than 1,000 games managing I've never felt I had to do that before.

Adel had the last laugh as we held on to get three points, not that he was the only one nursing a bruise or two. Heidar Helguson was tackled into the gravel in front of the dug-out and there was blood everywhere as he got changed. I said to the lads, "that's what you get when come up north".

3. Bolton and Stoke are not in town just to make up numbers

Losing Carlos Tevez is a massive blow to Manchester City ahead of today's FA Cup semi-final because Manchester United are looking as if they are hungry for everything at the moment. But you never know, there hasn't been much between the teams in recent games and one of City's other stars might step up. I still can't understand why the game is being played in London – well, I do, it's so the fans can pay for building Wembley.

I expect the players of Bolton and Stoke are delighted because they don't get to play there very often, some of the fans may feel the same. Mind you, thinking about it, City haven't been there for a long time either, not since the play-off final against Gillingham in 1999. That was to get out of the third tier. It seems a world away now.

Bolton and Stoke have two very different styles but they both have managers who deserve to be leading teams out at Wembley. Owen Coyle's a young manager with a massive career ahead of him and Tony Pulis is someone who has seen and done it all. His team plays more football than people give them credit for, too, though I remember thinking when he was at Plymouth that if [long-throw specialist] Tony Capaldi broke his arm they'd be relegated. That might have been the case with Rory Delap when Stoke first got into the Premier League but there are more strings to their bow now.

4. I can't wait for the Clasico – or the latest Chelsea rumours

There were no surprises in the Champions League in midweek leaving most of the interest on what will happen next. Barcelona v Real Madrid promises to be special. I can't see anyone beating Barcelona, but if anyone can it is Jose Mourinho. Almost as intriguing is what will happen at Chelsea in the next few months. That's going to keep the back-page journalists busy all summer.

5. I hope Holloway and his team can hang in there

I had to feel for Ian Holloway last weekend as I watched the Blackpool-Arsenal game. When you are a small team in the Premier League you never seem to get decisions against the big teams. I can just imagine, when he did not get that penalty when DJ Campbell was brought down with the score 2-1, that his mind went back to the Man United game when he should have had a penalty when they were leading 2-0. United came back to win, but I doubt if they would have done from 3-0 down.

You do feel everything gangs up on you when you're going through a lean spell, but he is going to have to forget about all those incidents and focus on the next match. If Blackpool are going to stay up, and I really hope they do, Ian is going to have to be at his best.

Still, they might get lucky in their final game. They are at Old Trafford, which looks daunting, but if United have sewn up the title by then what sort of team do you think Sir Alex will put out if he has the Champions League final a week away? He has got a bit of previous after all.

6. I am not looking forward to Amy following the fashions

No game today, again, because we've got yet another Monday night fixture, this time against Derby at Loftus Road. All the other teams will have played by then. The fixtures people do like to put a bit of pressure on us don't they?

The good thing is the enforced break gave me some time to come down to Cornwall to recharge. Not that everything down here is good for my blood pressure. Amy has recently become a teenager and to celebrate she went to a nightclub – one for youngsters opening at 7pm. Sharon dropped her and three friends off, then waited outside in the car reading a book before collecting them at 10.30. I was in Barnsley, which was a good thing because when we spoke later she said: "I'm so glad you didn't drop them off. If you saw what the other girls are wearing you'd be horrified." Sharon described the look as "pants, vests and high heels". They do up grow up quick, but I can't say I'm looking forward to it. After Sharon picked them up they all came back to our house. When she rang me – I was driving down from Barnsley – it was 12.45am. She was going to bed, they'd just put a Harry Potter movie on.

Will and I went crabbing the next day. We caught three, but he didn't half squeal when the biggest one bit him. Worse was to follow as we then had a skimming competition which, somehow, the girls won. Sharon and Amy fluked an 18-er between them, our best was a 12-er. Still, it's been a healthy few days off to clear my mind.

7. Knock, knock...

Finally, what made me laugh most this week was a joke from Jo Brand. She said, "My bloody next-door neighbour banged on my front door at 2.30 this morning. Thank God I was still up playing the drums."

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