Neil Warnock always claims that he’s finally retiring, finally calling time on an action-packed managerial career that has seen him in charge of a whole multitude of clubs since the 1980’s. His dismissal from Middlesbrough in 2021 felt like the correct time to retire once and for all, the veteran boss unable to fully work his magic at Teesside and leaving the Riverside with somewhat of a bruised ego – only winning 29 of his 75 matches in charge at Boro.
However, when Huddersfield Town dismissed Mark Fotheringham in early February this year, the 74-year-old was poised for a dramatic return to football management at the club he had tasted success with way back in the 1990’s. His first spell with the Terriers saw Warnock clinch promotion to what is now known as the Championship, the promotion expert waving his magic wand on proceedings even so early into his career. The task at hand this time around is very different, securing Huddersfield’s Championship status after the abject failures of Danny Schofield and the aforementioned Scotsman Mark Fotheringham before him.
It’s safe to say that this appointment of a much-loved and talked about English football icon has given the Terriers players, fans and everyone associated with Huddersfield a boost, the West Yorkshire side unbeaten in five of their last six matches which has pulled them out of the Championship relegation places to hopeful safety. The Terriers sit level on points with QPR and one point above Cardiff City, who have a game in hand, and one point above Reading, who occupy the relegation zone.
Why is Neil Warnock held in such high regard by avid followers of English football’s second tier? The Sheffield-born boss simply has the Midas touch when it comes to galvanising teams in this division, often clinching promotions instead of battling against relegation.
It’s not just in the Championship: the veteran manager has won a record-breaking eight promotions throughout his lengthy managerial career that has spanned five decades – three of those promotion stories secured in the Championship with Sheffield United, Queens Park Rangers and Cardiff City.
The final promotion from that trio of accolades is arguably Warnock’s most impressive, the 74-year-old coming in after the disastrous spell of Paul Trollope as Bluebirds boss and guiding them to a mid-table finish in his first season with the Welsh side. The second season saw an unexpected promotion occur, finishing 2nd in the Championship to secure automatic promotion to the Premier League ahead of the likes of Fulham and Aston Villa.
The Bluebirds would only finish runner-ups to money-rich Wolverhampton Wanderers, a Wolves side boasting Ruben Neves in central midfield even in the second tier. An adored figure to those with connections to The Bluebirds, Neil Warnock will still show no mercy to his former employers in his current role – attempting to keep Huddersfield in the division this season will come at the expense of Cardiff City, the Welsh giants now plunged into a basement battle.
Despite being unbeaten in five of his last six matches as Terriers boss, it hasn’t necessarily all been smooth sailing for Neil Warnock since making the Huddersfield dug-out his own again. He might well have conjured up some more of his magic on his managerial debut back at the John Smith’s Stadium – winning 2-1 versus Birmingham reducing the iconic manager to tears – but his Terriers side struggled for form during the early days of his tenure after this debut victory.
A defeat at Burnley was expected in the follow-up match to Birmingham, Vincent Kompany’s runaway Championship leaders wiping the floor of their opponents 4-0 at Turf Moor. But, when Neil Warnock’s men lost by the same scoreline to Mark Robins’ Coventry at home after the trip to Burnley, many began to doubt the veteran manager’s saviour-like presence.
Showing a lack of fight in the big matches coupled with defenders making numerous errors per 90 minutes, something needed to change. Thankfully for the Terriers fanbase, the past few matches have seen Neil Warnock really begin to stamp his authority on a Huddersfield side that look beleaguered and out of ideas previously.
The experienced head in the dug-out has opted to play far more defensive football, realising the team needed a sense of solidity after shipping countless goals that were avoidable in previous encounters. It resulted in an effective shut-out of Millwall on their own patch, Gary Rowett’s Lions formidable at the Den usually.
Only having 28% possession for the entire contest and registering four shots on goal, Neil Warnock’s battlers still came away with three points through dogged determination. A cross into the Millwall box mid-way through the second half was seized upon by Danny Ward, the Terriers striker finishing past Millwall keeper George Long for 1-0 in the only goal of the contest.
That was a style of performance alien under the previous regime of Mark Fotheringham, a performance that indicated the Huddersfield group are more than capable of providing the fight needed to stay up in the second tier. Even when the defensive displays haven’t been at their best, Neil Warnock’s men have now taken to outscoring their opponent to win matches.
Despite going 1-0 down on the stroke of half-time via a Marcus Forss strike in a recent encounter versus Middlesbrough, Neil Warnock’s Terriers never gave up. They would go on to shock Michael Carrick’s Boro in the second half, equalising a matter of moments into the second half at the John Smith’s Stadium with Josh Ruffels hammering a strike home.
It would turn into a barnstorming, back and forth contest – Huddersfield turning the contest completely on its head, winning 4-2 courtesy of a Matty Pearson double. The John Smith’s Stadium was rocking at full-time, an atmosphere not too dissimilar from matches under Carlos Corberan and David Wagner when promotion to the Premier League was on the mind. Now, it’s bouncing to push the players over the line to secure their Championship status.
Huddersfield would even go away to Vicarage Road and win after this one, a 3-2 win on their travels down to London with youngsters Jack Rudoni and Kian Harratt getting on the scoresheet alongside defender Matty Pearson chipping in with another. The Terriers just don’t know when they’re beaten, Neil Warnock getting the best out of a side that looked lost under previous managerial regimes.
Even celebrity superfan Sir Patrick Stewart beamed with pride post-match after the Watford win, the Star Trek actor a passionate Terriers supporter. The West Yorkshire club have come such a long way in recent months that a 2-2 draw in their last Championship match versus Blackburn almost felt disappointing, especially with Neil Warnock’s men leading 2-0 at one stage, but John Dahl Tomasson’s side are fighting for a playoff spot at the opposite end of the division and only picked up a point in stoppage time.
It shows the progress Huddersfield have made under their new beloved boss, Neil Warnock blowing off any cobwebs to return to a managerial position in style. It remains to be seen whether this role at Huddersfield will be Neil Warnock’s actual swan song in football management, the Sheffield-born boss seemingly has football management in his blood. After falling to a 1-0 defeat at Swansea on Saturday, he’ll be looking to lead the Terriers to a strong result against Sunderland and give themselves some breathing room above the drop.
For a man like Neil Warnock, football management is an obsession and a profession he simply doesn’t want to give up. The Huddersfield manager would much rather be on the sidelines guiding his team to a dramatic victory and relishing the moment than disappearing from the football scene altogether to the plush refines of retirement.
By: Kelan Sarson / @SarsonKelan
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / John Early – Getty Images