My Crystal Palace team take on Aston Villa in the fifth round of the FA Cup tomorrow. Villa are one of the best teams in the country and still chasing a Champions League spot, but I know Martin O'Neill will bring his best side to Selhurst Park and will accept nothing less than 100 per cent from them. I wouldn't want it any other way.
To me this match is what the FA Cup is all about. We showed in the last round against Wolves what we can do against Premier League opposition. Our fans can't wait for us to have another go. Some attendances in the Cup haven't been great this year, but we'll have our biggest gate of the season.
Villa still have an outside chance of finishing fourth in the Premier League, but I suspect that, deep down, Martin knows the Cup offers his best chance of success this year. I've been really pleased to see how well he's done at Villa. He's based his squad on a nucleus of young British talent, which I like to see. I hated it when Portsmouth fielded a team without any British players the other week.
There's so much quality in the Villa side, with players like John Carew, Stewart Downing, Ashley Young and James Milner, whose form has been the biggest plus for me in the whole of the Premier League this season. Like so many successful teams their strength comes from the back, starting with Brad Friedel, one of the best goalkeepers in the country.
Three of the present Villa team – Ashley Young, Stephen Warnock and James Collins – were transfer targets of mine at Sheffield United. I offered £1.2m for Young – and Watford thought seriously about it. He later cost Villa more than £8m, but it was money well spent.
Martin and I have similar backgrounds as managers. We were both great admirers of Brian Clough and worked our way up through the non-league ranks. Martin managed Grantham and Shepshed Charterhouse before he joined Wycombe. He took them into the Football League.
I remember one game against Wycombe when I was managing Huddersfield. You may think I go berserk over refereeing decisions, but Martin was 10 times worse that day. He was going ballistic, particularly after one of their players got sent off. He was leaping up and down, his hair standing on end, as if he'd had 10,000 volts put through him. We were leading 1-0 at half-time, but, sure enough, Martin's rants had their effect. Nearly all the decisions went Wycombe's way in the second half and they won 2-1.
Managing at a lower level gives you a grounding that stands you in good stead later on in your career, because you can remember things you did wrong in the past. Managers don't get much time these days and it's important that you learn from your mistakes.
People ask me if I've gone to watch Villa, but I tell them: "Why should I? I want to get some sleep at night, thank you very much." Martin came to watch us beat Wolves in last week's replay. He left, no doubt with a smile on his face, just after Danny Butterfield, our right-back-cum-striker, completed his hat-trick. I'm just wondering whether I might try Clint Hill, our left-back, up front tomorrow.
2. I think I deserve some luck in the Cup
It's strange how little incidents can count for so much in the Cup. I remember going to Tottenham with Notts County for a quarter-final in March 1991.
We went 1-0 up and a certain Paul Gascoigne was lucky to stay on the pitch after headbutting Paul Harding. Tottenham equalised and finally got the winner seven minutes from the end. The scorer? Gazza. Tottenham ended up winning the Cup that year.
As a player I recall going to Newcastle with Scunthorpe in 1974. We were leading 1-0 at St James' Park until Terry McDermott equalised six minutes from time.
We were denied the chance of taking them on under floodlights in the replay because of the power shortages in the wake of the miners' strike. Nearly 20,000 people still turned out the following Wednesday afternoon, but we lost 3-0, Malcolm Macdonald scoring twice.
I've never taken a team to a Wembley cup final, though I came desperately close in 2003 when Sheffield United got to the semi-finals of the FA Cup and the League Cup. I think someone from the referees' society must have conducted the semi-final draws that year. We played Arsenal in the FA Cup, while Southampton met Watford. In the League Cup we faced Liverpool and Manchester United met Blackburn.
3. Administration is no fun – I miss the chairman
I may give the impression that I'm enjoying Palace being in administration, but I'm not. For one thing I really miss the day-to-day contact with the chairman. Who motivates the manager? I've only spoken to our administrator two or three times.
Being in administration has made me appreciate some of the things we often take for granted. For example, we were told we couldn't travel by rail to away matches. I do understand that economies have to be made, but the way you prepare for a match is so important. I ended up helping a search for sponsors who would pay the fares for us. Thankfully we were successful and on our next three long journeys we'll let the train take the strain.
Our Prozone performance analysis tool was cut off because of unpaid bills, which meant we didn't have its stats and analysis going into our midweek match against Swansea, though I'm hoping that will be sorted out. Then there are people like our masseur and the lady who runs the canteen at the training ground. I gather they haven't been paid for the last couple of months. I just hope that the administrator can find a formula whereby they will get their money.
4. War story puts money problems in perspective
William and I have been reading Michael Morpurgo's book "Billy the Kid", about a young lad who played for Chelsea and then had his life turned upside down by the Second World War.
During the book Billy's father and brother both die; he falls in love with a girl who, like her mother, is killed by the Germans; he gets injured when he drives an ambulance over a landmine; and he goes home to find the rest of his family have been killed by a bomb. I suppose that puts the problems of administration into perspective, but I don't think it's been helping William sleep at night.
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