Middlesbrough could all but relegate Sheffield Wednesday with a win at the Riverside (Saturday, KO 3pm) – and that has left Neil Warnock conflicted.
The Boro boss is a life-long Sheffield United fan and managed the Blades through a spell of domination in the steel city
He knows that fans of his former club – themselves already relegated from the Premier League – would relish him easing their woes by piling the agony on their rivals, four points adrift with three games left.
But while Warnock admits he loves nothing better than to beat Wednesday, he doesn’t want them to go down.
“You don’t want to see them in this situation,” he said. “United are getting relegated, I’d rather be looking forward to two Sheffield derbies. All my relatives who work in Sheffield, when there’s a derby it’s all you look forward to.”
He has sympathy for Wednesday who started the season with a 12 point deduction – later reduced to six – for financial irregularities over how they sold their ground to themselves to make the books balance.
“The points deduction did them,” he said. “It’s hard to come back from something like that when you have been struggling and there are financial problems. That’s no way to get relegated is it?
“It’s hard for fans, all you can do is support your team and they’ve always done that. They’ve always had full houses. When I was young they were one of the real giant clubs – that’s why I supported United, because I love an under-dog.
“I’ve always wanted to win whenever I have played them. When I was the manager at United all I wanted was to finish above them and we did that. We played in a higher division.
“And whatever club I have been at I always wanted to beat them. And I have done quite a few times. And their fans boo me and shout at me and call me all kinds of nasty names and I love it. I will really miss that this time with an empty ground.”
Boro stopped the rot with a 2-1 win at ten man Rotherham in midweek, their first win in six after a stuttering run that has seen outside play-off hopes evaporate and left the boss disappointed and frustrated at disjointed displays.
He has spoken of a summer purge after being let down by some players. Strikers Britt Assombalonga and Ashley Fletcher, both out of contract in the summer, were this week shown the door and will not play or train with Boro again.
And with a string of injuries Boro will be depleted but Warnock still expects a stirring show in the final few games.
Wednesday arrive at the Riverside desperate to grab a life-line but with the poorest away record in the league having taken just 14 points from a possible 63 on the road but Warnock is taking nothing for granted.
“”Have you seen our home record? I wouldn’t say we’re heavy favourites,” he said. “I think deep down they might think it’s not a bad game, there’s a lot worse teams they could be playing.
“But I want us to try and enjoy the last three games, that means working hard and trying to play.”
Big defender Grant Hall is a doubt after needing seven stitches to a head wound that saw him limp off at Rotherham.
Warnock only had six subs in that game with all five outfield players aged 21 or younger and with not a single minute of league action for Boro between them before kick-off. But Djed Spence could return from injury and Hayden Coulson has recovered from illness.
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