We were getting ready to play Southampton on Wednesday evening when Tony Daley, our fitness coach, got a text message from David Kelly, Preston's assistant manager. He said Preston had travelled 300 miles to Plymouth, only to find the match had been postponed because of a frozen pitch.
Charlton and Torquay, who made similar journeys to Newcastle and Stockport, also had their matches called off within an hour or two of kick-off. Gillingham's match at Swansea was postponed in the afternoon. Other postponements included Bournemouth v Barnsley, Doncaster v Brentford and Colchester v Scunthorpe. Do I spot a pattern here?
At one stage I feared our long trek to St Mary's would be in vain. It was bitterly cold and Southampton didn't switch on their undersoil heating. They reckon their pitch never freezes because the ground is near a river, but the match was nearly called off. The referee said he would start the game and abandon it if the pitch was too dangerous. It was freezing and certainly not the easiest of surfaces.
There has to be a way of drawing up a Christmas and New Year schedule which doesn't involve us all having to travel such ridiculous distances. Our fans gave us fantastic support at Southampton, but when it took us six and a half hours to get there on Tuesday I wondered how they would cope. The weather was bad and there were three or four major hold-ups on the way. We trained on Wednesday morning just to find some fresh air and get the players moving again. Spending that long on a coach inevitably stiffens you up.
After the match we stopped overnight in Oxford. I wanted to break up the journey and ensure the lads got to sleep at the normal time. We got there just after midnight and had one drink in the bar watching Match of the Day before going to bed. We had an hour in the swimming pool before breakfast the next morning, got on the road at 10.15 and arrived back in Sheffield at 1.00, knowing we faced another match, at home to Stoke, 48 hours later. It's crazy.
I love Boxing Day and New Year's Day football, but we play too many matches at this time of the year. Why did we play on Wednesday, having already played on Boxing Day, and why are most clubs playing again on Monday, two days after playing on New Year's Eve? At least we'll have another day to prepare for our match on Tuesday, a relatively short trip to Hull. The Preston lads, having had that nightmare trip to Plymouth, now have to slog over to Norwich on Monday.
I've always advocated a two-week break in January, probably after the third round of the FA Cup. We need time to recharge our batteries. Ten months is a long time to go without a break.
2. Journalists ought to use dictionaries
I read that our 1-0 win at Southampton ended our "disastrous" run. Disastrous? We won our first two games in December, then drew at Preston North End and lost at home to Norwich City on Boxing Day before winning at Southampton. If we can maintain that disastrous form for the rest of the season we'll be promoted.
We didn't play badly against Norwich. We lost because we handed them three goals on a plate. We bounced back well at Southampton in what could have been a tricky match. It was George Burley's first home match in charge and in the opening 30 minutes we had to withstand an onslaught.
We stuck together and made slight adjustments at half-time. In the second half we played as well as we have done all season away from home and thoroughly deserved Neil Shipperley's winner.
3. My 10 New Year's resolutions
1 To keep on improving my relations with referees. I've done pretty well this year: even at Preston, when we had a blatant penalty denied us near the end, I was smiling and chatting to the fourth official. In the last four matches we've had three stonewall penalties not given. Looking at all those handball verdicts not given this week, it seems obvious the game is moving too quickly for referees to spot things. I agree with Chris Coleman that technological help for referees is now vital. Genuine penalties aren't being given, probably because referees are under so much pressure to get things right.
2 Keep up my vow to renounce all the daft superstitions I've followed over the years: wearing the same item of clothing, not having my hair cut during a winning run, not changing my razor blade (very painful after four or five weeks). I feel much better without them.
3 Get David Unsworth and Shipps a bigger pair of shorts in our away kit. Their model figures aren't flattered by their present gear.
4 Never let Shipps have Christmas Day off again. I let him go down south on Christmas Eve to be with his family on Christmas Day. He didn't come back until Boxing Day and had a poor game against Norwich.
5 Get Chris Morgan, our captain, on an anger management course.
6 Get Craig Short some WD40 to keep him going to the end of the season. He pulled his calf last week, just when he was in great form. We wouldn't have lost against Norwich if he'd played.
7 Get Simon Jordan, Crystal Palace's chairman, on to a degree course in diplomacy and nominate him as a future FA councillor.
8 Make sure Stuart McCall, my assistant, gets his hair cut once it starts drifting over his eyes.
9 Stop putting the names of my players in a hat on Friday night and then drawing them out to pick the team. I really should be more constructive.
10 Maintain my ban on that word that begins and ends in the letter 'p'. The Premiership is what we're aiming for, but we know what can happen over 20 games.Reuse content