Saturday 10 May ~
Whatever happens to Crystal Palace in the Championship play-offs, you can be sure that Neil Warnock will have plenty to say about it. Much of his post-match comments, either after the sem-final against Bristol City or the final at Wembley, will revolve around the fact that he knows many people don't like him but, guess what, he doesn't care. This outlook is also useful to him in firing up his teams. Whatever he does, it seems to work.
Palace began the season under the management of Peter Taylor, a man fated to be seen always as a promising youngster destined for big things, despite being in his mid-50s. When Warnock took over in early October the club were just above the relegation area in the Championship. Palace's loud chairman, Simon Jordan, is prone to public declarations about the high standards he expects from his employees and he has reason to be delighted with Warnock, who has done an extremely good job over the past seven months. A 15-game unbeaten run from October to January took a previously struggling team into play-off contention.
Should Palace win promotion, they will need break with an unwanted club tradition. Steve Coppell's side went down from the Premier League in its inaugural season, 1992-93, having finished third two years earlier. Since then, Palace have been promoted back three times but always relegated the following season. Warnock has an unhappy record in this respect having also gone down immediately with the other two teams he took up to the top level, Notts County and Sheffield United.
That first relegation under Coppell ended the longest run that the club have ever had in the top division, just five seasons. While many chairmen like to talk airily of their club's potential fanbase, in Palace's case there is a case to be made. They have a large catchment area in south London, in which they have usually been in competition with Chelsea. But they ought to be able to at least rival West Ham as fourth London club if only they could gain a proper foothold. Their current owner-manager combination does mean, however, that they won't feature highly in the affections of many neutrals. Then again, Neil Warnock is probably saying as much right now as he prepares to unleash his team on Bristol City.