By 5pm on Saturday we may have a clearer view of the Championship relegation battle as Watford battle Plymouth and Crystal Palace welcome (i use the term loosely) Queens Park Rangers to Selhurst Park. It’s one of those interesting matches that football often throws up, a series of events that cumulate in a heated affair when two sides meet, as any person that follows this league will be aware that if this match had been played a few months prior, Neil Warnock would be giving his pre-match team talk in the home dressing room as opposed to the away one. Warnock left in what some football fans would consider understandable circumstances: Palace entering administration, struggling to fill their bench every week and the club facing the prospect of relegation after a mandatory point’s deduction. But you try telling that to a Palace fan, as they’ll probably feel that Warnock is nothing but a money grabbing so-and-so, who’s left Palace to join a club in almost an identical situation, bar financial difficulties. You wouldn’t blame Warnock for feeling the nerves before his return…
But who could blame a Palace fan? Warnock left for the pure reason of money, the power that controls all football today, and to them it feels like Warnock just left the club to sort out its own problems; wiping his hands clean. Warnocck is an unbearable character at the best of times for most English football fans – constantly ranting on about how “I’ve always had to struggle – I’ve never had it easy” and all that lark. It must give Palace fans a great deal of pleasure to see when he did attempt to take the easy way out through buying into the bizarre QPR regime, which has involved 12 managers taking the helm in the past four years (five of them controlling the club this season), that he ultimately struggled for results and is currently battling relegation much like their own club – some would say it’s still not easy for Warnock. The original investment into Rangers promised that they would be the new Chelsea of world football and could reach the top half of Premier League in no time, yet questionable ownership and a bunch of dodgy decisions has instead left many football fans questioning how legitimate these claims were.
You can throw on top of the fire current Eagles manager Paul Hart being one of those five men to manage QPR this season and only last a mere five games before his reign was over and he will no doubt be desperate for the win over his former employers. Warnock, unlike his predecessors, will be given until the end of the season due to his experience in the league as the board aren’t that short sighted to realise that he is a good manager and that he faces the problem of a poor squad created due to a lack of stability. It is a shame for the long suffering QPR fans that initially were given the promise of top flight football and a world class side and instead have to watch the inner turmoil of their club as the prawn sandwich eating board squabble over club matters like babies who can’t share their toys.
This game could arguably not come at a worse time for Rangers either, who have not won in their last seven games and now face a Palace side who have not only points to play for but a universal point to prove as well. In a mental edge perspective too, if Palace pick up the three points they will climb over QPR in the table and will feel more in control of their fate. However, with four games to go after this for Rangers, they can send a rival further away from themselves and show bouncebackabillity that could see them rejuvenated for their final run in. This basically the pundits definition of the proverbial “six pointer” and is one game you’d be cautious about putting on your accumulator this weekend.
Interestingly, Radek Cerny, who has been out of the first team since January is set to start for Rangers, a gamble that Warnock is forced to take due to Carl Ikeme’s loan spell ending. Place could be without Danny Butterfield, but Lee Hills returns from suspension, allowing Clint Hill to return to his more natural position of centre -back.
Overall this is the game of the weekend for the football league; it has a script like a Hollywood drama. Both teams will be desperate for a win and I’d be surprised, particularly being a London derby, if the game isn’t a sell out, as Palace fans will be desperate to get one over Warnock, whereas QPR supporters will travel in the hope of seeing their team turn things around and get one step closer to safety. Eyes will be on what sort of reception Palace fans give Warnock, as it is expected to be a chorus of booing and jeering, yet some have suggested that the fans may put the fiasco aside and remember Warnock for all the good he did for the team. Putting feelings aside, the most important thing is what happens when the final whistle has gone and what the result is. Both teams need it bad in what is expected to be a cagey and heated affair.