Neil Warnock V The Johnsons – A Feud Across the Ages

It takes a manager with formidable endurance to keep a feud going across two generations and few people have every accused Neil Warnock of lacking staying power.

The Cardiff City manager will be 70 later this year and has crossed swords and bumped heads with more managers than Lee Johnson has had hot dinners.

That means decades worth of spats, slights and grudges, including one with Bristol City’s current manager Johnson’s father Gary.

Johnson the older – who also used to manage the Robins, Cardiff’s opponents on Sunday lunchtime – got under Warnock’s skin a few times, including one occasion in 2009 when a controversial goal attempt by Freddie Sears lit the fuse between the two bosses.

Warnock, then manager of Crystal Palace, said he felt cheated by the decision not to award Sears’ goal for Palace at Ashton Gate and was angered by what he felt was Johnson Senior’s failure to own up.

Nine years on, Warnock faces Johnson Junior, 36-year-old Lee at Cardiff City Stadium, and the needle that was there when the pair met in November is still apparent.

Asked on Friday whether the feud with the Johnsons was pantomime rather than truly personal, Warnock replied: “It’s genuine.

“Everyone knew it was a goal, apart from the officials, even Gary knew it was a goal and I thought they should have conceded a goal. But they didn’t.

“I said they would probably go downhill from then on, and they did.”

Johnson the younger is something of a flag-bearer for up-and-coming British managers in the game at present and has plenty of admirers. Not only has he kept unfancied Bristol City in the Championship play-off places, but he enjoyed an eye-catching run in the Carabao Cup which involved a shock victory over Manchester United and a creditable showing against Manchester City in two legs of the semi-final before a 5-3 aggregate defeat.

Warnock is too magnanimous not to recognise the good work Johnson has done at Ashton Gate, but mischievously suggested Sunday’s opponents are a long ball team and that Johnson has benefitted for having a loyal and forgiving club owner in Steve Lansdown.

Neil Warnock. Pic: Getty Images.

“I’ll be very surprised if they don’t play long ball on Sunday, the last two times we’ve played them, they’ve been the long ball merchants,” Warnock added.

“There’s not that many young British managers around. You’re always learning as a young manager and you look back on your bad times.

“You’ve got to have bad times so you can learn from them and Lee will look back on last season, when he had such a disastrous run in the second half of the season, and you’re always learning.

“The main thing for a young manager is to have a good chairman and Lee, well, he’s won the pools really with Steve Lansdown because they’ve spent quite a lot on the squad over the last few years, as well as the stadium.

“When young managers ask me what I advice I can give them, I say make sure, if you can, you get a good chairman, because that’s the main thing as a manager, having someone who supports you through good and bad times.”

The difficult times seem to have returned for Johnson as his side have struggled since the heady nights of those matches against the Manchester giants.

In their last nine Championship games, Bristol City have won just once – a sharp contrast to the Bluebirds’ form with Warnock’s team having remained unbeaten in the League since New Year’s Day.

But Warnock is refusing to take on the pressure of favourites for promotion behind leaders Wolves – despite the four-point gap between Cardiff and third-placed Aston Villa.

“I don’t look at anybody else. I don’t even look at Villa and Derby and teams like that, I just know they’ve got good squads.

“Fulham really are the favourites for me, along with Wolves. Bristol City and ourselves, if our season finished tomorrow, we can both say we’ve had a fantastic season.

“We’ve both over-achieved. It’s great for both teams to look at what we’ve done this season.

“You look below the top six and the big clubs down below that are nowhere near, it makes you realise what a job Lee’s done and what we’ve done.”


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