By David Williams
Neil Warnock reckons a victory over Cardiff City today would successfully complete his most difficult assignment in four decades in management.
The man with the Midas touch when it comes to avoiding relegation – except from the Premier League – is determined to give Middlesbrough the result they need this afternoon, even if it undermines his old club’s play-off prospects.
It’s the kind of storyline football can be relied upon to often deliver – the old gunslinger driven out of town, finally getting his chance for vengeance against the posse who saw to his departure.
In Warnock’s case he supposedly stood down from Cardiff back in November by mutual agreement, but the truth is he had repeatedly spoken of his desire to see out the season as his final one in management and then help choose his successor.
Now that he is on the point of rescuing Boro – they need only one point to be mathematically safe from the drop – Warnock is already dropping hints about next season, but a victory for Cardiff might change the picture.
Asked if it would be his most satisfying act of escapology, Warnock said: “It would have to be up there for me.
“Keeping Rotherham up was an achievement a few years ago, and the same at Cardiff, but this would be bigger.
“I knew after the first week that it would be difficult. We had to play square pegs in round holes in some cases, playing players in other positions, but I can’t fault them for what they’ve done so far.
“We have picked up some good points – we’ve played six and won three which isn’t bad form at all.
“Now we’re looking to get the point that secures our status. It’s a big week for us with the game against Cardiff and Sheffield Wednesday still to come, but we’re looking forward after the win at Reading on Tuesday.
“A couple weeks ago I couldn’t see where our next goal was coming from, never mind our next win, so to have those wins now is great, and we look forward to my old club Cardiff City now.”
Warnock will be desperate to spring an ambush on his former club, but he still believes they will finish ahead of Swansea City and Millwall to claim the final play-off spot.
He also backs the team inherited and then tweaked by his successor Neil Harris to go up, too, so long as they avoid the Championship’s most in-form team, Brentford.
“When I look at that Cardiff team, I think it’s the type of team you need to succeed in the Championship, especially on limited funds,” said Warnock.
“When you look at some of the teams at the top end, the Fulhams of this world, money seems to be no object. But with the belts being tightened at the moment, when you look at Cardiff, you have to be impressed with what they’ve got there.
“It’s not just the team, it’s the squad down there, the substitutes, everything. It’s a great squad, and I take a lot of pride when I look at that squad. I think the fans do too.
“I’d love to see them go up,” he said. “When I left, I did say that in the second half of the season, I thought they could get in the play-offs.
“If they get in, I only see Brentford as a danger to them. I don’t see any of the other teams beating them.
“But I’m up here helping out here now, and I’d like to think we could shape the squad here for next season. Whether I’m manager or not, I know what’s needed.”