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Will Championship great Neil Warnock earn a final shot at the Premier League?

Achieving promotion to the Premier League with second-placed Cardiff City would rank among Championship stalwart Neil Warnock’s finest career achievements, writes Greg Whitaker.

Greg Whitaker

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Neil Warnock
Photo: Reuters

Earlier this week, Neil Warnock told the assembled press that he “loves it” when his Cardiff City side are not mentioned in the race for promotion this season.

The high flying Bluebirds have certainly proved a surprise package this season, with Warnock once again up to his old tricks and making good use of his vast managerial expertise.

With runaway leaders Wolves, along with the likes of Aston Villa and Derby, taking all the headlines this season, it would appear Cardiff are indeed operating under the radar.

With relatively limited resources at his disposal and no real promotion expectations prior to the start of the season, the highly divisive Warnock, even in his 38th year of football management, is once again showing why he is still the master at this level.

The 69-year-old, who is now managing his 15th club, is a rare beast in modern football.

Unapologetically honest and forthright, he is the last in a dying breed of old school British managers, and one of the very few who has managed to adapt and continue to succeed in a game that barely resembles the one he left as a player nearly four decades ago.

Cutting his managerial teeth in non-league football, Warnock soon began to make a name for himself as an up-and-coming manager during the 1980s.

His managerial career was kick-started when he guided Conference side Scarborough into the Football League for the very first time in 1987, making them first club to win automatic promotion following the abolition of the re-election system in the process.

Successful stints at Notts County, Huddersfield Town, Plymouth Argyle, Oldham and Bury followed, before he took over at his boyhood club, Sheffield United, in 1999.

Under his stewardship, the Blades were transformed from a struggling second tier side into serial promotion contenders, with the club’s long awaited return to the Premier League coming in 2006.

However, a highly controversial relegation the following season, immortalised by the image of the ‘ineligible’ Carlos Tevez scoring a vital winner for relegation rivals West Ham at Old Trafford, saw Warnock resign and take some time away from the game.

Despite the Blades receiving a £20 million settlement after a lengthy court battle, Sheffield United are yet to return to the Premier League – surely Warnock’s biggest regret of his career.

The former winger returned to the dugout with Crystal Palace, before getting his second shot at the Premier League after guiding fellow London outfit QPR to the Championship title in 2011.

Time spent at Leeds United, a second spell at Selhurst Park, and a relegation scrap with Rotherham all came and went before Warnock was announced as Paul Trollope’s successor at Cardiff City in October 2016.

Admitting when he took the job that it would likely be his last in football, Warnock has unashamedly stuck to his tried and tested management style, once again with great effect.

Packing his teams with leaders on the pitch and in the dressing room, organisation drilled into each and every squad member, and a ‘my way or the highway’ mentality, rarely so effectively implemented by anyone else in the modern game, has made him enemies over the years, but also brought him a great deal of success.

This method of success, along, of course, with his infamous short temper and frequently observable explosions of rage, often aimed at match officials, has given Warnock an almost pantomime villain image, and one which he loves to play up to.

Indeed, as he noted in a recent interview, when discussing how the past greats of football should be remembered, he said, “I don’t want silence. I want them all to be chanting “Warnock’s a w*****” over and over again. For a whole minute. That would be my ideal.”

However he presents himself, it cannot be argued that the man gets results.

Cardiff City were deeply mired in a relegation battle when Warnock took to the hot seat at the Welsh capital club in October of 2016.

Less than 18 months later the Bluebirds sit in second position, behind only runaway leaders, Wolves.

A turnaround made all the more impressive when Warnock’s transfer budget is taken into account.

The Welsh outfit have spent a little under £15m on incoming players during the last two transfer windows combined – a shadow of the money spent by other names in the promotion mix, including Wolves, Villa, Derby and Middlesbrough.

Although he has claimed in the past not to enjoy managing in the Premier League, it is hard to imagine Warnock is not itching for one last shot at the big time.

His Championship credentials are unquestionably up there with some of the great Football League managers.

However, fate has been unkind to the Yorkshireman during his only two spells managing in the top flight.

Football is all about theatre and narrative.

Despite a great deal of ‘pantomime’ animosity aimed at the Marmite-esque Neil Warnock, if he manages to take this unfancied Cardiff City side into the Premier League this season, it would surely rank as his finest achievement, and cement his status as one of the second tier’s greatest managers.

Greg is a freelance writer and broadcast journalist who has previously worked as a sports journalist at the likes of the BBC, Yahoo Sports UK, and the Hull Daily Mail. A long-standing Hull City supporter, Greg has also spent time as a Director on the Board of the Hull City Supporters' Trust. Follow him on Twitter - @Greg_Whitaker

Cardiff City

Neil Warnock should target Matt Derbyshire reunion at Cardiff City

The striker has been in fine form with Omonia Nicosia in Cyprus.

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Since leaving England for the second time in his career Matt Derbyshire has found himself in electric form.

The former Blackburn Rovers, Olympiakos, and Nottingham Forest striker headed to Cyprus in the summer of 2016.

Since then, he has become a vital member of the Omonia Nicosia first-team.

The forward has been scoring goals for fun in the Cypriot capital, netting 50 times in 73 games. He has become a star for the club, where he is now vice-captain.

Such form would certainly warrant a return to England for the 32-year-old. One team that should be looking at his signature is Cardiff City.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

The Bluebirds are looking like they may be on their way back to the Premier League. Neil Warnock has worked wonders with the Welsh side, who are currently second in the Championship.

If Cardiff are to get promoted to the Premier League they will be looking to add more goals to the team and a player with experience of playing at that level would also be welcomed.

On top of that, Cardiff boss Warnock knows Derbyshire well. The experienced striker was a member of the Rotherham United side who Warnock miraculously saved from Championship relegation in 2015-16.

Derbyshire was the top-scorer for the Millers that season but he left that summer. This was not the doing of Warnock, who had already stepped down as Rotherham boss.

(Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)

Cardiff need a goal-scoring striker, with their top scorer in the league this season midfielder Callum Paterson.

Derbyshire is known to Warnock, a hard worker and currently enjoying an Indian summer in his career.

Whilst he would not be a high-profile signature for Cardiff if promoted he would be a solid option for Warnock.

If he could then continue his goalscoring form, it would be a brilliant signing for the Bluebirds.

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Neil Etheridge will want to best Fulham more than most Cardiff City players

The Philippines international was never given a chance at Fulham.

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This week saw Fulham leapfrog Cardiff City into second place in the Championship. The Cottagers defeated struggling Reading 1-0 whilst the Bluebirds suffered defeat at the hands of fellow promotion chasers Aston Villa.

Cardiff, however, do have a game in hand over their West London rivals and, if they can pick up the victory in that game, they will return to the automatic promotion spots.

One man who will hope they can beat Fulham to promotion more than others is Cardiff City goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

The Philippines international has been a revelation for Neil Warnock’s side this season since arriving from Walsall in the summer.

But his career has been something of a struggle up to this point, including a difficult spell with Cardiff’s biggest promotion rivals. The 28-year-old headed to Fulham from Chelsea in 2006. He spent eight years with the Cottagers but played just once for the club in his time at Craven Cottage, in a Europa League clash with Odense Boldklub which saw Martin Jol’s side dumped out the competition.

Instead, he spent much of his time at Fulham out on loan with the likes of Leatherhead, Charlton, Bristol Rovers and Crewe Alexandra.

(Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

Then, in the summer of 2014, Fulham released him.

Since then he has rebuilt his career with spells at Oldham Athletic, Charlton and, eventually, excelling at Walsall.

Etheridge signed initially as a back-up to Lee Camp, has now established himself as the number one at Cardiff City. For him, ensuring that Cardiff get one over on Fulham would be a massive personal boost against a side who never gave him the chances, it seems, he could have taken.

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Despite Wolves loss, Cardiff City supporters should be confident of promotion

The Bluebirds’ promotion hopes took a hit against Wolves on Friday evening.

Jake Jackman

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Cardiff
Photo: Getty Images

Cardiff City have been in the automatic promotion places for a number of weeks now, but their gap to Fulham is narrowing after a couple of poor results.

Earlier this week, they had to rely on a late goal from Anthony Pilkington to take a point from their away match against Sheffield United.

They then dropped points to top-of-the-table Wolverhampton Wanderers, despite being awarded two penalties in stoppage time.

If they had scored one, they would have earned another point, but neither found the back of the net.

At this time of the season, every disappointment is felt more harshly as it could be the missed opportunity that costs a club promotion or relegation.

Cardiff remain in second position and have a five-point cushion to Fulham in third.

However, the Cottagers have been in rampant form, with their last loss in the league coming back in December. They have won six of their last seven matches.

There will be a lot of nerves among Cardiff supporters heading into the final six matches of the campaign, but they should remain confident that their team can win promotion to the Premier League for only the second time.

The loss against Wolves was only their second Championship defeat in 2018 and it came against the only team above them in the league table.

The players will be more affected due to missing two penalties in stoppage time, but if they reflect on what the result represents, it shouldn’t hit their confidence too hard.

Prior to the Wolves defeat, Cardiff were unbeaten in 13 matches in the Championship and had won ten of those. That is the form of a team destined for promotion.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

That run of wins came after four successive defeats in the league that momentarily derailed their season.

There will be fears that a similar run could be incoming, but Neil Warnock is an experienced manager who regularly delivers success. He will have made sure the players learned from that period and their form since suggests that they did.

Another reason for optimism is the defensive record sustained by the club.

The Bluebirds may not have the attacking talent possessed by either Wolves or Fulham, but Warnock has made sure they are difficult to break down at the back.

They have conceded only 34 times, which is the best defensive record of any team in the division.

It is often said that defences win championships and the solid foundations that have been built at the Cardiff City Stadium give them a great chance of maintaining their five-point lead.

Last season, Brighton, who finished in second, earned 93 points over the course of the season. That number will only be reached by Fulham if they win their remaining six matches.

Despite their good form, that remains unlikely as the Championship is a very competitive division. It is much more likely that 90 will be enough to reach the Premier League without going through the play-offs.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

That means that Cardiff need to be targeting at least three wins and one draw from their remaining six matches.

They have some difficult matches against Aston Villa, Norwich City and Derby County, but this season has shown that the Bluebirds should go into each match with confidence of winning.

The other fixtures will see them face Nottingham Forest, Hull City and Reading.

The past week has shown that promotion is far from secured yet, but with a five-point cushion and four matches to play against teams in the bottom half, Cardiff should remain confident that they will finish in the automatic promotion places.

Warnock has a good promotion record and it would be a surprise if they are surpassed by an in-form Fulham team.

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