Warnock homes in on points
CARDIFF City will be looking for home comforts as they return to action in front of their own fans for a run of games Neil Warnock says is a huge test of their Championship credentials.
And he claimed his Bluebirds are ready to bounce back having suffered disappointment for the first time this term.
After two games on the road that saw Cardiff drop their first points of the season, Warnock welcomes old rivals Sheffield Wednesday to south Wales.
“The next three home matches are probably against the three best teams in the division – and that’s what I want. We know if we are not on our game we’ll get beaten, but I know what we are capable of.”
NEIL Warnock didn’t say much to his players after their first defeat of the season, even though they might have been expecting it.
And there won’t be much of a speech to Cardiff City’s stars ahead of the visit of Sheffield Wednesday.
The reasoning for the former was perhaps a mixture of things. The veteran manager accepts that he should have made changes at Deepdale, something that became apparent “within the first 15 minutes” as an uncharacteristically off-the-pace performance led to Preston’s 3-0 midweek win.
But, as he admitted players might have anticipated the “rollicking” he could have dished out in the dressing room, the fact that he trusted them to know in themselves they weren’t good enough may have had a bigger impact. After all, as anyone would remember from childhood, you’d know when you’d really upset your parents when you suffered the silent treatment rather than the shouts and scolds.
Offering the chance for some introspection from the players perhaps explains the latter and why there won’t be any motivational marching orders now Cardiff are back on home soil.
But, again, there’s more to it, with Warnock no doubt expecting his players to know and understand the veteran manager’s background as a boyhood Blade and what it means to him to take on ‘Steel City’ rivals.
Loyalty doesn’t – or shouldn’t – leave when colours change, and it will be no different for the former manager of United when up against the Owls.
And yet it’s more than a base rivalry, just as Warnock is more than the dugout personality he often plays up to. Both go deeper than that and the Sheffield native’s motivation this week is as touching as it is tribalistic.
“I was born in Sheffield and I’ve always like the underdog,” said Warnock when asked why he became a Blade rather than an Owl. “When I was a young lad in short trousers, Wednesday were the best team in the county from what I remember. I can remember a big centre-half called Peter Swan with his shorts up his waistband.
“I remember I went to watch Santos at Hillsborough one night as a lad. Pele was playing and I standing on the Kop with my sister who was a Wednesdayite. That tells you the family was split between the clubs.
“But Wednesday were always the favourites and so, being the black sheep of the family like I was, I wanted to be the underdog and that’s how I ended up a Blade.”
The memories prompt Warnock to recall how much he enjoyed going from boy on the terraces to the man who led United above Wednesday and into the Premier League, the smiling sideswipe a tell-tale sign of how much he’d love to get one over the Owls regardless of the current crest on his tracksuit.
“I always have banter with them, every time I go there, it’s fabulous. I love it,” he said.
“It’s a special game for me, with all my family up in that area; quite a few are coming down as well as my missus and daughter.”
Sadly, not all those Warnock would like to be there to witness a win over Wednesday will be at Cardiff City Stadium.
“I’ve got one or two good mates who are Wednesday fans, but unfortunately one of my best mates passed away a couple of months ago,” Warnock said of a long-standing friend.
“My mate Tony was a Wednesdayite and would ring me regularly calling me all names. He had cancer for many years and fought it, but eventually lost his battle. But before he did I said, don’t worry, I won’t let you down when we play against you. I hope he’ll be looking down.”
And so tells a story of a rivalry strong in Sheffield steel, but more smiling than spiteful where the only true hate in Warnock is the hatred of losing to give friends and family from other half of his hometown the bragging rights.
It’s why losing to Wednesday at Hillsborough last season was one of those fixtures that fuelled Warnock’s determination to make the changes he wanted this summer and give the Bluebirds the chance of a dream that all are revelling in.
After the late 1-0 loss there last year, Warnock wound up play-off chasing Wednesday by congratulating the promotion of United and saying how much he was looking forward to the return of the Sheffield derby, dismiss-
ing the promotion chances of Carlos Carvalhal’s side without having to say it. He’s got his chance to back it up and backs his side to do it and re-fuel that belief of staying in the top spots of the division, even without having to spell it out to his players.
“It was one of those games up there,” he admitted, having previously admitted the weaknesses in side and squad meant he had to take defeats on the chin before having the chance to push on.
“Last year we conceded too many silly goals and didn’t score enough.
“We did alright to get where we were and to finish in the top half was excellent really.
“But I do feel we’re better prepared for the Championship this year. I said to the lads we’re going to lose games – everybody is – but’ it’s making sure that when we go out we’ve got an opportunity of winning every game as well – and we’ve got that.
“We have options now, I’ve said it time and time again, the bench is the strongest I’ve ever known it here and probably the strongest I’ve ever had in my career in this division.”
Which might tempt him into changes today with the likes of Danny Ward, Lee Tomlin, Jazz Richards and new signings Craig Bryson and Liam Feeney all pushing for starts, breathing down the necks of those who can’t afford another off-day.
Yet, at the same time, Warnock may well know that lack of a tongue-lashing may prompt the response he knows his side are capable of without changes, as they have shown so far this season.
At Preston, they were off the pace, lacking in urgency, just not looking themselves – you’d be a brave man to bet against Cardiff being the totally the opposite today. And that’s without what the game means to Warnock.
“They know how important it is for me, they don’t need anyone saying that,” he added. “I think they realise Sheffield Wednesday is a special one for me.”
> Will striker Danny Ward come in to the side against Wednesday?
> As a dyed-in-the-wool Sheffield United fan, Neil Warnock is relishing the chance to put one over the Owls today. Meanwhile, inset, Warnock celebrates promotion for the Blades, with his children joining in, back in 2006