NEIL Warnock saw in 2009 by holding a belated 60th birthday party at the Ardkinglas Estate on Loch Fyne. He followed it up with a Saturday afternoon at one of the dullest ties in the history of the FA Cup.
“I had a great time in Scotland, a lovely time,” he said. “It was nice to celebrate it in the way I did, have the piper and the log fire and the castle, the fireworks. F**king hell, it was more than what we had today.”
Warnock’s Crystal Palace side are still in the FA Cup following their 0-0 draw at Leicester this afternoon. But as he acknowledged, it was a dreadful game.
How dreadful? One of the loudest cheers of the afternoon was for a Leicester ball boy who trapped a wayward clearance into touch with a level of grace and control that was sadly lacking on the pitch.
We might have expected a bit more bite about this cup tie, which pitted League One against Championship. Warnock, after all, has a bit of history with Leicester. Eighteen months ago, owner Milan Mandaric had talks with Warnock about the manager’s job. But an offer never materialised. Mandaric has appointed four managers since then, so perhaps Warnock had a lucky escape.
The fourth is Nigel Pearson, who has led Leicester to the top of League One following a relegation which should never have happened. It’s true that the league table never lies, but never can a team have blown so many chances to escape the drop as Leicester did in the Championship last season.
Warnock made light of his Leicester brush off as he signed autographs for fans of both clubs outside the Walkers Stadium before today’s game. A few feet away, a group of young Palace fans were trying to pluck up the courage to ask the manager what had happened to Shefki Kuqi.
The Finnish striker, Palace’s top scorer this season with six goals, has been on the transfer list since last February, and many fans expect him to move in the transfer window. Was his omission from the squad today to keep him from being cup-tied? Apparently not – he had ‘flu.
A shame, because Palace could have done with some of his raw aggression up front.
In 90 minutes, the two teams managed a grand total of three shots on target between them. To add to that, Leicester had one that was nearly on target – a first-half free kick from Joe Mattock which flew just wide – and another one that should have been on target.
That came on the hour mark, when Steve Howard ran clear on to substitute Paul Dickov’s through ball. But with only keeper Julian Speroni to beat, the striker skied his shot into the stand. Howard had only just removed his hands from his head when Speroni took the goal kick.
The Leicester No 9, though, had a thankless task. Matty Fryatt, the Foxes’ 23-goal top scorer, was missing due to an ankle injury, so Pearson decided to play Howard alone up front ahead of a five-man midfield. However, Palace also played a five-man midfield.
As a result, both teams quickly realised it was pointless trying to play the ball along the floor. But with both Howard and Palace’s striker, Alan Lee, outnumbered four-to-one by opposing defenders, it was pretty pointless trying to play the ball in the air either.
The game was not pleasant to watch. Full credit, then, to whoever wrote the match report for the Sunday Mercury, who has managed to make it sound like an intriguing cup tie, in which the plucky lower-league side almost pulled off a giant-killing.
Those who follow Leicester may have seen the result as proof that their team can compete with the better sides in the Championship. Pearson certainly put a positive spin on the performance, suggesting that his team had the better of what few chances there were.
Warnock has no doubts that the Foxes deserve to be at a higher level. “They’re a good side, and it’ll be nice to see them back in the Championship,” he said.
That’s a party for another day. The only thing to make Leicester City smile tonight is the news that one of their former youth-team players is the new Doctor Who. Matt who? No, Matt Smith, apparently.
That’s another job Warnock has been overlooked for, then.