“I DON’T think I can win,” says the lifelong Sheffield United fan who led Huddersfield Town to their last victory at Wembley, “and I don’t think I can lose.”
Neil Warnock is, in common with many in the county, eagerly looking forward to Saturday’s all-Yorkshire League One play-off final between the Blades and Terriers.
The contest between the two White Rose clubs will be watched by a bumper crowd with United having yesterday sold more than 27,000 tickets to the 21,000 shifted by Town, meaning the capital is gearing itself up for a potentially great Yorkshire show.
Warnock does not plan to be among the thousands making their way up Wembley Way but he will be glued to the action on television as his boyhood team, United, take on Huddersfield, the club he managed for a couple of enjoyable years from 1993.
“It will be a cracking match,” said Warnock to the Yorkshire Post when taking time out from his strenuous attempts to strengthen the Leeds United squad.
“I am certain of that because they are two good clubs. Obviously, everyone knows my links with Sheffield United but I did enjoy my time at Huddersfield massively. They are a smashing club and I like what Dean (Hoyle, Town chairman) is doing. He has invested a lot of money and built an excellent squad.
“I’ve been involved in a few play-off finals in my career and they are always hard to call. But this one really is almost like the toss of a coin. I honestly believe the result is totally up in the air.
“I watched York win promotion in the Conference play-off final (last Sunday) with an offside goal and it really could come down to who is the luckiest on the day.”
With Sheffield Wednesday clinching runners-up spot on the final day of the season, Yorkshire will, regardless of Saturday’s score, claim two of the three promotion slots in League One this term.
However, as for which one of Town or United will prevail at Wembley, Warnock is certain about only one thing.
“I can’t see Huddersfield not scoring,” says the Sheffield-born 63-year-old. “Not with Jordan Rhodes in their squad. He has had an amazing season and I can see why some are saying Rhodes means Huddersfield will have a slight advantage over Sheffield United.
“Without (the jailed) Ched Evans, it is hard to see where the goals will come from for Sheffield United. But I also do believe that a team are often at their most dangerous when maybe they are not expected to do too much.
“And Sheffield United are the sort of team that can surprise people. That is what I mean by saying the final really is too close to call.”
Warnock boasts an impressive record in play-off finals after leading Notts County to two Wembley triumphs in as many years at the start of the Nineties.
He also led Huddersfield to success in the 1995 Division Two final against Bristol Rovers on what was the West Yorkshire club’s last trip to the national stadium before moving on to Plymouth Argyle, who celebrated their own promotion under the Twin Towers just a year after Town.
The one blot on his play-off final record came, ironically, when in charge of his boyhood favourites as the Blades crashed to a 3-0 defeat against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the 2003 Division One final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
Asked if there was a secret to his success in the play-offs, Warnock replied: “Every manager does something different and has different ideas. The key is making the players relaxed.
“In all four play-off finals that I won, instead of watching a video of the opposition at 12 noon on the day of the game I stuck on a Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown video.
“You have to take the players’ minds off it. And if you don’t know all about the opposition a few hours before kick-off then there is something wrong.”
Whether Danny Wilson or Simon Grayson will try something different along the lines of a comedy DVD or, as York City manager Gary Mills did the night before last Sunday’s Conference final, taking his players for a pint remains to be seen.
But Warnock added: “A couple of weeks ago I said the Sheffield United players had to get what happened during the run-in out of their system and the signs were good in the semi-finals against Stevenage, especially in the away leg.
“I expected them to come under a lot of heavy pressure down there but I thought Danny got his tactics exactly right. It was a brave, gutsy performance and I thought they controlled it.
“I had been expecting it to be all hands to the pump down there but it was nothing of the sort and Danny deserves a lot of credit for that.
“As for whether they are totally over missing out on automatic promotion to Sheffield Wednesday, I don’t think we’ll truly know the answer until Saturday. That will tell us whether they are or not.
“But they finished third in the division so should believe in themselves. They have to enjoy the occasion and think about all the good things they did this season.
“Having said that, the squads are so well matched that it really is impossible to call - especially for someone with the links I have with both clubs. That’s what I mean by me not being able to win or lose come Saturday afternoon.”