Outspoken Warnock keeps Palace fighting on
Crystal Palace boss Neil Warnock has rattled enough cages in his 29 years as a manager to ensure that not everyone will have been instantly sympathetic to the way his side were cruelly denied victory over Aston Villa at the very end of an enthralling FA Cup fifth round tie on Sunday.
He was at his outspoken worst again immediately after the final whistle of his side's 2-2 draw, raging on live TV that the corner that led to Stiliyan Petrov's 87th-minute equaliser for Villa should not have been awarded.
It's true that Warnock was proved right by TV replays which showed the ball went behind after taking the slightest of touches off Villa's Nathan Delfouneso after Eagles goalkeeper Julian Speroni had brilliantly denied John Carew but, apart from the players closest to the incident, few people in the ground spotted it at the time.
We've seen similar scenes to the rant that followed on too many occasions - this time it was directed at linesman Trevor Massey, who got the decision wrong - and, sadly, it somewhat overshadowed what had been a thrilling match and stirring performance by a Palace team in administration with debts of around £30m and facing an uncertain future.
Warnock was exasperated after Villa scored a late equaliser
The most infuriating thing about Warnock is that his sense of injustice only functions from his own perspective; his outbursts give the impression he thinks he is the only victim of wrong decisions by officials and he doesn't seem to care who he upsets while getting his opinions across - that point was made by his opposite number Martin O'Neill when he addressed the press after the game in the bowels of Selhurst Park.
When it was explained to O'Neill, who is himself known to get rather animated on the touchline at times, about the reason for Warnock's ire, the Villa boss said: "I didn't realise what he was upset about because I am never sure what Neil is upset about.
"So we got a bit of luck. But, tell me this, because I haven't seen it back yet - was it a definite free-kick that led to their second goal? I could be totally wrong and it might be the most blatant free-kick of all time but I wasn't sure at the time and you can argue these decisions back and forward."
That might be ill-advised. When it comes to arguing, Warnock is undoubtedly one of the best in the business. He had calmed down a bit by the time he came in for his post-match press conference yet was still angry enough with Massey to repeat his demand for the official to be banned, for a long time.
But, even if you disagree with what comes out of the 61-year-old Yorkshireman's mouth - and sometimes it is easy to - there is still something about him that you cannot help warming to. For a start, his passion for the game may be misplaced at times but it shone like a beacon throughout Sunday's game when he was constantly on his feet encouraging his players, who put in an phenomenal effort in return.
Love him or hate him, you cannot deny he is an inspirational manager and Palace fans, like those at most of the 10 other clubs Warnock has spent time in charge of, recognise that. The Eagles supporters sang his name constantly during Sunday's Cup-tie and believe, rightly, that they would be in a much bigger hole right now if he was not around.
Last week, I spoke to former Palace forward Mark Bright, who helped them reach the 1990 Cup final and now combines work as a pundit for the BBC with coaching his old club's strikers.
Bright has seen Warnock at work on the training pitch and dressing room first hand, raising morale and fostering team spirit and told me: "I truly believe he is exactly the right man to galvanise the team and we have seen that with their performances since they went into administration. Neil works best with his back against the wall and he is the biggest reason they have battled on the way they have."
As well as being effective, Warnock is always entertaining too. His post-match strop, although unsavoury, still raised a smile as he described himself searching, unsuccessfully, for the right phrase when he confronted Massey after the match: "I said does he realise how hard it is when we are not let down by anything that is a football matter, just something that is purely - what's the word, inconsistency? I couldn't think of the word - I thought of a few but they would have cost me a few grand... (a journalist suggests 'incompetent') Thanks ever so much - that's the word and I wish I could have thought of it earlier."
Of course, Palace's plight is no laughing matter. They were on the edge of the Championship promotion race before being docked 10 points when they were tipped into administration at the end of January, quickly lost their best player Victor Moses to Wigan while the transfer window was still open and now, apart from a replay at Villa Park on 24 February, have nothing but a relegation battle to look forward to.
Some good news is that the Eagles' administrator Brendan Guilfoyle says the sale of Moses and their Cup run has raised enough funds to see the club through to the end of the season. If the Eagles are to stay in the Championship, then they desperately need Warnock to be around until then too, but even that may not be straightforward.
Warnock has 18 months left on his contract at Selhurst Park but, if reported interest from QPR becomes concrete, then the revolving doors at Loftus Road might prove tempting to a man who has made it clear he wants to try his luck again in the top flight before he retires, and is unlikely to get the opportunity with his present employers.
Darren Ambrose celebrates after putting Palace ahead for the second time
How big a loss to the Eagles would losing Warnock be? Huge. If their fans adore him, their players rely on him.
Darren Ambrose, who had put Palace on the brink of a place in the last eight with his superb 30-yard free-kick ahead of Petrov's controversial late leveller, said afterwards: "He is a one off, a one-of-a-kind manager who has helped me a lot.
"He lets me play how I want to play and he has got me enjoying football again. It's the same for every player - we have got closer as a group because of what has happened to the club off the pitch. The staff are included in that and he is the main man."
The skilful former England Under-21 international joined Palace in the summer after suffering two relegations in three years with their local rivals Charlton and has been one of Palace's star performers this season.
Ambrose, who was linked with several other clubs in January, especially when Guilfoyle took over the running of the club from former chairman Simon Jordan, has been in this situation before - he was sold by Ipswich to Newcastle for £1m when the Portman Road club were in administration in 2003 but is adamant he is committed to Palace's cause and hopes his manager does not leave either.
"Do I want him to stay? Absolutely, yeah," added Ambrose. "He put a lot of faith in me to sign me in the summer. I want to be here, and I want him to be the manager when I am here. Hopefully these stories are just rumours."
Palace fans will no doubt agree. What has turned into a difficult season would become a complete nightmare if Warnock were to leave.
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