MARTIN SMITH: Who’s a southern softie now, Neil?

Blades manager Neil Warnock at the final whistle
Blades manager Neil Warnock at the final whistle
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HE’S 150 miles away, top of the league and king of a new castle.

Nine points clear in April, Neil Warnock is chasing his seventh promotion as a manager.

Blades manager Neil Warnock consoled by Wigan manager Paul Jewell at the final whistle

Blades manager Neil Warnock consoled by Wigan manager Paul Jewell at the final whistle

He knows the way from here.

Today at the Queen’s Park Rangers training ground at Harlington a quiet descends after the team’s morning workout.

Players busy themselves between boot room, shower and physio’s table. Talented, dreaming young men hoping to get a smile or nod from the gaffer as he passes by.

Then that unmistakeable Sheffield voice booms along the multi-doored corridor: “Andy!”

Andy attends, is given instructions and passes on advice.

Everything is different but somehow feels just the same as it did in Neil Warnock’s office as he prepares his Rangers side to face the team of his heart on Monday.

A win for Rangers will make them virtual certainties for promotion to the Premier League – and bring the drop to League One a step closer for United.

Next month it will be four years since Warnock’s United side were horribly, agonisingly relegated from the Premier League on the last day of the season.

The pain of that day still drives him.

“If anything the things that were said after we went down are my motivation,” said a Neil Warnock looking ridiculously healthy and relaxed for a 62-year-old football manager.

“That’s the reason I am where I am today. The hurt is the driving force. I got sick of thinking about Jagielka’s mistake and Danny Webber hitting the post. Such bitter feelings.”

After being persuaded to return to management with Crystal Palace Warnock joined nouveau riche QPR a year ago.

“I said Sheffield United would be my last job and I never thought I could live south of Watford,” he said.

“Now I’m here I don’t think I want to go north of it! I want to get this team promoted and get back in the Premiership and have at least one more season up there. When I came for the job I told the chairman I wanted promotion in a year and asked him if he would support me. Usually it’s the chairman who demands promotion not the manager.”

But it’s not just the football that turning Warnock into what he used to call a ‘southern softie’ when motivating his players to face London clubs.

He loves the life.

“It’s a different world down here, he said.

“You soon get used to the traffic and I only live about two minutes from Richmond Park. Sharon and I and the kids bike around there and we sometimes bike to Kew Gardens and have a picnic. There are so many things to see and do.

“I love going out on my own before a game and go off the paths into the woods in the park. I always bump into the deer when I go. It’s a fantastic place.

“I always have a talk to the deer, they are fantastic animals.

“We use to go to Chatsworth when we lived in Sheffield. It’s just great to get away out of mobile phone range and be away from everything. I can go out with problems in my head, relax and come up with answers without really having to work too hard at it while I’m out there.

“I love that, its the peace of the place that does it. There’s never anyone out in the woods.”

Despite his new-found love of London Neil Warnock is still a visitor to his home town. He was here last week and he’ll be here next week visiting his brother and mates in Burncross and Chapeltown.

“I went to the ground last week on the way from the Doncaster game,” he said.

“I said hello to some of the staff there, they always give me a good welcome. It feels strange driving into the car park though and not going into my office.

“I remember the first time I did that as manager. I sat there at the top of the car park looking at the south stand and thinking: “I don’t now how I’ve got here but I have.”

He might well be thinking the same about the Premier League in a month’s time.

But there’s plenty to do before then.

On Saturday night the Warnocks will be dining out in the West End to celebrate Mrs Warnock’s birthday.

On Sunday they may cycle to Kew or take the kids and dogs on a picnic in Richmond Park. Life in London is good for the Warnocks.

Samuel Johnson once famously said that when a man is tired of London he is tired of life.

Neil Warnock is clearly tired of neither.