Neil loves life south of the Watford gap

Neil Warnock: Preparing to lock horns with his former club at Loftus Road on Monday.   Picture: Steve Taylor.
Neil Warnock: Preparing to lock horns with his former club at Loftus Road on Monday. Picture: Steve Taylor.
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HE is as Yorkshire as Henderson’s Relish and hob nailed boots yet the Big Smoke has rejuvenated Neil Warnock.

Less than five years after declaring he could never contemplate a move to London and only four since controversially parting company with the club he supported as a boy, the former Sheffield United manager is loving life in the capital.

“I didn’t think I’d ever hear myself admit this but I’m absolutely chuffed to bits that we came down here,” he told The Star earlier this week. “We’d have missed out on so much as a family if we hadn’t.

“We’re going for tea at The Savoy soon - something we’ve never done before and are really looking forward to - and then topping the night off by watching the Wizard of Oz. Brilliant.”

Not the most pressurised of pre-match routines but then times are pretty good at Queens Park Rangers right now. While United are embroiled in a desperate battle against relegation, their next opponents lead the Championship table by nine points and are seemingly destined for the Premier League.

Which is where, having delivered top-flight football to Bramall Lane in 2006, Warnock still believes Monday’s visitors to Loftus Road should be plying their trade.

The Carlos Tevez Affair - and the FA’s subsequent decision to fine rather than impose a more draconian punishment on West Ham for breaking rules outlawing third party ownership - effectively cost United their place among England’s football’s elite. And Warnock his job.

“We have no doubt that the services of Tevez were worth at least three points to West Ham over the season,” Lord Griffiths, who chaired an independent inquiry into the matter, later insisted. “And were what made the difference between West Ham remaining in the Premiership and being relegated at the end of the season.”

“Sheffield United would be there now if it wasn’t for the Tevez stuff,” Warnock said. “And nothing anybody will ever say is going to change my mind or convince me otherwise. Nothing.

“The ground had changed beyond all recognition with the development, crowds were on the up and I’m certain that if we hadn’t been relegated then we’d have gone on to establish ourselves.

“I can remember saying to the chairman at the time ‘Look at what Bolton Wanderers have gone on to do.’ That could have been Sheffield United. It was a massive turning point in their recent history without a shadow of a doubt.”

Smarting not only from the governing body’s lenient stance towards wrong-doing at Upton Park but also comments attributed to a member of United’s board following his departure, Team Warnock decamped south. First to Crystal Palace before his switch to QPR.

“I think coming to a different place really spurred me on. That and some of the things that were said when I left Sheffield. I’m not going to deny that.

“There was a part of me that thought ‘I’ll show you all.’ “I never believed that I’d like it as much as I do down here. But we’re absolutely loving it. It’s a great place to be. Things change don’t they.”

But not, it seems, Warnock’s ability to inspire players other coaches have discarded. Adel Taarabt, the Moroccan magician he rescued from the scrap heap at Spurs, is widely regarded as the competition’s most gifted talent while Heidar Helguson, the Icelandic striker Warnock’s predecessor Jim Magilton wanted to shove through the exit door, has also emerged as a driving force behind QPR’s resurgence.

“Heidar had been sent out on loan to Watford but he’s come back in and been so good there’s no way we could let him leave. He’s like Neil Shipperley who everyone thought was past it when he came to United but went on to have a massive part in getting us up. Shipps was anything but.

“People think we’ve spent a lot of money here but it’s the free transfers - lads like Shaun Derry and Clint Hill - who have given us the base that everyone else can build on.

“Clint, I’ve got to say, has been absolutely brilliant for me. A revelation.”

In a division famed for its unpredictable results, QPR have been unerringly consistent. They lock horns with United searching for their eighth win in 11 games, 14th on home soil and 22nd clean sheet of the season.

“It’s those unsung heroes who have given us that ingredient,” he said. “They’re the ones responsible for allowing us to keep pressing on.

“We’ve got eight games left now and we’ve got to keep doing that. But I’ve told the boys that it’s not going to be easy.

“There are no certainties whatsoever. Especially at this level.”

United hope he is correct.