Sunday 3 May ~
For a manager who has taken his team to 14th place in the Championship, Neil Warnock gets an inordinate amount of publicity. This comes primarily though his having a national newspaper column in which the personal pronoun features very heavily. It's also due to the fact that he has a mutually beneficial relationship with the media. In these days of 24 hour football coverage, they need a constant supply of stories, and the attention-seeking Warnock is a reliable source. And now here he is featuring in an internet column. He's won again - unlike Crystal Palace. And there is every expectation that Palace will lose today, a result which may lead to promotion for Warnock's favourite team.
Sheffield Utd, who went out of the Premier League under Warnock two years ago, could be promoted by winning at Selhurst Park this afternoon. Unless Birmingham City also win, at Reading, who could go up themselves if they win while Sheffield Utd lose or draw. The journalists on Sky TV's Sunday Supplement joked that at a time when the FA are looking into several alleged cases of match fixing, the only thing that would look suspicious about the Palace match would be a big stake placed on a home win. It was also pointed out that Palace chairman Simon Jordan is known to have fallen out with his counterpart at Birmingham, David Gold and that he would not be unduly bothered by a home defeat today.
Neil Warnock, however has rightly refuted any suggestions of skullduggery in his latest Independent column, saying "anyone who's followed my career will know I'm never going to send out a team that is not trying to win a game". Blades fan or not, Warnock will relish an opportunity to play a major role in promotion issues after such a disappointing season for his own team, for whom he has just signed an extended contract. If Sheffield United secure promotion today, it will be largely due to Birmingham City having imploded.
Although Alex McLeish's side have been one of the top sides in the division, many City fans are known to be unhappy with the team's cautious style of play that has produced just 52 goals, the lowest total in the top ten. Indeed, a reluctance to attack contributed to Birmingham's failure to secure promotion last week when opponents Preston scored twice in the last 20 minutes to win 2-1. "I have admitted the style of football played may not have been to everyone's taste," said David Gold earlier his week, adding "But if we get up that will be forgotten." However, City's joint-owner David Sullivan recently claimed to have received "over a thousand" messages demanding that McLeish be sacked after a poor run in April and the build-up to today's game at Reading has been accompanied by speculation that the Birmingham manager will leave at the end of the season even if his team go up.
McLeish's opponent today, Steve Coppell, has denied reports that he intends to retire this summer but without confirming that he will definitely stay. It's remarkable that Reading are still in with a chance of promotion on the last day given that they haven't won any of their last seven home games, a run stretching back to late January. Even if they break that sequence, one of Coppell's former clubs, Crystal Palace may play a decisive role in determining if it is enough for them to go up. Win, lose or draw, Neil Warnock will have plenty to say afterwards.