Neil Warnock: Writing on the wall for tough trip to Reading

What I Learn't This Week
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The Independent Football

1. Why I was happy after one of my team's worst displays

I've had an interesting week. We ended with nine men against Burnley last Saturday, then went up to Leeds, where my Sheffield United connections mean I'm not exactly the local favourite. Even though we made six changes for the Carling Cup from the league game, the Leeds fans enjoyed ribbing me throughout the night, asking me what the score was. I was almost as happy with the scoreline as they were – we were very lucky it was only four. It was probably one of the worst performances I've ever seen from one of my teams.

Then I had a letter from a referees' assessor. It told me we should have had a penalty in a recent match after all, one which would have changed the game. As you can imagine, that cheered me up no end.

And now I'm off to Reading, where, as some of you will recall, I've some great mates and am really popular. Funnily enough, I spoke to Steve Coppell on another matter last week. Though obviously I'm not a big fan of everything around Reading, I've always liked Steve.

I think Reading have one of the best squads in the Championship and will be very close to automatic promotion. I suppose we could have picked an easier place to travel, when, at the time of writing, we haven't signed a striker and haven't scored a goal, but that is what makes football so interesting.

2. Armstrong rewarded after brave battle against injury

Reading have signed one of my lads from Sheffield United, Chris Armstrong, and I could not be more delighted for him. He is one of the nicest lads you could ever wish to meet but he had a horrendous knee injury when we first signed him which put him out for the best part of two years. He was even advised to call it a day. He would have earned himself about £250,000 from the insurance pay-out and when I saw the pain he was in I felt it was the only thing for him. But he was so keen to try again. After another six months, and more operations, he got to the stage where we had to ask permission from the insurance company to let him play in the reserves to see if he was capable.

When he came through I felt so proud of him. To go through the agony of all that. It would have been so much easier for a young lad to take the money. So I'm really pleased to see him today.

3. Capello's job made easier by the problem of unfit players

Fabio Capello's a lucky man. The injuries suffered by some England players this week gives him the chance to send out a team with the right balance. There are certain players he probably feels he can't drop because they are fantastic for their clubs, but including them for England doesn't work that well. Now it looks as if he'll partner Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard. In theory that should work, Barry anchoring a bit and Lampard bombing on.

I see there's been a few comments about Alex Ferguson saying Owen Hargreaves could play for Man U last night, but not England. I can understand where Alex is coming from. After a long injury it's just as important how you recover and last night's game looked like a good one to ease him into.

We'll have a few going away on international duty. Fortunately, Nick Carle is only going to the Netherlands this week; next month he is off to Australia. Then there are the youngsters. I'm looking forward to Victor Moses going off to England Under-21s. He was brilliant pre-season, then went off with England and has come back and played rubbish. His form has just started to come back, so I'm hoping this time he comes back playing brilliant. But that's youngsters: they blow hot and cold.

Lee Hills is also going with England but I'm hoping Sean Scannell doesn't go with the Irish. It's like the Hargreaves situation. He might be involved today, but he's been out a few weeks and I'd rather he rested afterwards.

4. Arsenal put on inspiring show on and off the pitch

On Thursday I went to Worthing to see Arsenal reserves. It was a great night. It is a fantastic little club, one of those tucked away between the houses, and the hospitality was super.

It was interesting, having read Arsène Wenger's comments in these pages about Usain Bolt last week, to see some of the Arsenal lads. They all ran like the sprinter and had physiques like him. I wouldn't be that surprised if Arsène had tried to sign the Lightning Bolt.

I couldn't help but notice what good habits had been ingrained in the Arsenal youngsters. It was quite an eye-opener for me. Not only did they play with the right attitude, but the spirit of the side and the club shone through.

The night was capped when, as I was getting into my car, the Arsenal coach driver asked me if I wanted a bottle of water for the trip. I thought they cannot be this nice.

Talking about hospitality and manners, a lot of clubs stick you in the middle of nowhere in the stand and can't be bothered to entertain you. So it was refreshing the other night when Mick Jones, my assistant, went to Fulham against Leicester. Everything about the welcome he got – from parking his car to the ladies in reception showing him to his seat – was just how it should be. As I say to my youngsters, it doesn't cost anything to have good manners.

5. Transfer window starts off as poker and ends as dominoes

It's been a mad week trying to sign a striker before the deadline. That has been put back 24 hours, as 31 August is a Sunday, to Monday night, which is almost as big a nightmare for us as the whole concept of a transfer window.

On Monday we have our sponsor's day at Lingfield races. I'm bound to spend all day on the phone, and not to the bookies, as I think it will all go ballistic on Monday. We have a number of players available for loans and transfers, and have had a lot of enquiries, but it's like a game of poker. No one wants to show their hand. Once someone does everyone will: it'll then be like a game of dominoes.

As you can imagine, I'm a bit concerned, given the circumstances. I've already warned the chairman that after a couple of sherries I could sign anyone.

6. Chelsea must not be bitten down in Dracula country

I think all the English clubs have got reasonable draws in the Champions League. None of them are easy, but you wouldn't expect them to be at this stage, though Chelsea's biggest concern might making sure no one gets bitten while playing in Transylvania.

I'm pleased for Colin Kazim-Richards that Fenerbahce have drawn Arsenal, as I know he's a big Gooner. Liverpool probably have the toughest draw, but I think they also have a great chance of progressing.

7. Gag-free zone follows from being stuck in no-goal land

I'm sorry, about the lacks of gags this week, but there's not much to laugh about when you haven't scored a goal. However, I can offer a joke from my lad William. Who invented fire? Some bright spark.

PS. Gordon is harder to get in touch with than the Pope

I've been trying to get hold of Gordon Strachan for weeks. If anyone who knows him reads The Independent, can you ask him? I'd appreciate a call. It's been like trying to get hold of the Pope, though that might be easier.

3 questions for Jermain Defoe

1. What is your favourite TV programme?

"I love The X-Factor, in fact I never miss it. I also enjoy I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here because I'm really into reality TV. I'd love to go on Big Brother just to see what it's like. I'd love to be there, waking people up and generally being a pest. I know they would chuck me out after the first week but it would be fun while it lasted."

2. Who is the most famous person you have ever met?

"I'm fortunate to meet many famous people from showbiz. I really enjoyed meeting Usher because he is right up there for me. I also met Naomi Campbell."

3. Who is your best mate in football?

"Shaun Wright-Phillips. We're great mates and we talk all the time."

From September's FootballPunk, free with GolfPunk every month

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