Lieutenant Warnock and the missing towel mystery
Stoke City 2 Queens Park Rangers 3
The Britannia Stadium
Monday 21 November 2011
In another life Neil Warnock would have been a detective. Not the Inspector Morse kind, his inspiration coming from a soundtrack of Wagner, but the in-your-face Columbo kind, always turning back and asking: "Just one more thing."
Just one more thing; Warnock wanted to know what happened to the towels at half-time. They were there for the first half, presumably to aid Stoke's trademark long throws, and had disappeared when his Queen's Park Rangers re-emerged after the interval. He had a prime suspect; a Welshman who hid under a baseball cap and went by the name of Pulis.
"So I went out and fetched my own towel," he said. "Then the ref came over and told us we couldn't do that. Then Stoke used the towel at the end and the ref told them they couldn't have it."
After a wild tackle on Joey Barton by Rory Delap, tensions were already high and the row over the towel saw the Stoke physio, Andy Davies, sent to the stands by the referee, Mike Jones.
"I think you either have the towels or you don't, you can't take them away because your team are losing," said Warnock, although what advantage Tony Pulis's side would gain from depriving Delap of his towel was not immediately clear. "I am going to find out where the law stands on this because it has to be clarified. I think it is a little bit childish that you change the goalposts at half-time."
At the start of the month, Warnock had seen the BBC apologise for his remarks that Rangers had "defended like fairies". Here, at perhaps English football's most unforgiving venue, they played like titans to the extent that when Heidar Helguson headed QPR's equaliser he held his hand not to the heavens but to a bruised and swollen eye-socket that had taken somebody's elbow.
"He could have left last season," Warnock said after a game in which the man from Iceland's northern shores had scored twice and might have had a hat-trick. "My previous owners did not want to retain him because of his age but I thought I could see a Kevin Davies in Heidar.
"Sometimes you spend money for the sake of it and I cannot imagine anyone playing as well as Heidar did here. You see his face after the game and, good-looking lad though he is, it looks as if he has gone 10 rounds with Cassius Clay."
Just one more thing; this was Stoke's fifth defeat in six matches and their second in succession at the Britannia Stadium, although given the way they started, QPR seemed likely to be overwhelmed before the interval. Pulis, who had dropped his keeper, Asmir Begovic, pointed to lapses of concentration and individual errors. Warnock thought the fixture list might have something to do with it, although why Stoke had been drawn away after every Europa League game would have taxed the detective in the gabardine mac.
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