Crystal Palace v Stoke City: Potters will face tough FA Cup challenge, says Danny Higginbotham
DANNY Higginbotham, with Stoke City still in his heart, couldn't resist a parting word of advice ahead of tomorrow's FA Cup third-round tie at Crystal Palace.
And Stoke's outgoing defender could be worth listening to after suffering a 5-0 drubbing at Selhurst Park in November.
Higginbotham was on loan at Ipswich and at the heart of a defence taken to the cleaners during Ian Holloway's first game in charge at Palace.
"I played well," he reflected. "We actually started the game really well, but then gave a daft goal away. And then I think we conceded three penalties."
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He acknowledged the danger posed by the much-hyped Wilfried Zaha on one wing, but also warned Stoke against letting Yannick Bolasie sneak under the radar on the other.
"The other lad hasn't got the same attention as Zaha," said Higginbotham, "but he should be given that same attention by teams playing against them because he is a real threat out wide.
"Then Palace have also got Glenn Murray (who scored a hat-trick against Ipswich). He's scoring goals left, right and centre for them at the moment and will obviously be a danger if you let him.
"Selhurst Park is always a tough place to get a result at the best of times and I'm sure it will be a great atmosphere because Palace are doing well and Stoke are a big fish now.
"It will be great to see Stoke go on another cup run because I know it's a competition very close to everyone's hearts there."
The word 'there' slipped uneasily passed his lips, you suspect, as Higginbotham begins adjusting to life away from the Britannia after five years and 128 appearances over two spells since 2006.
The 34-year-old defender was ready to renew his loan spell at Ipswich when Sheffield United stepped in at the 11th-hour to sign him until the end of the season.
And within hours of agreeing to move to Bramall Lane, he was lining up at the heart of their defence in a 2-2 draw at Doncaster on New Year's Day.
"It all happened so quickly that I turned up to play without any boots and without really meeting the other lads" he explained.
"I also had a young lad (19-year-old Tom Kennedy) lining up alongside me making his full debut.
"I was preparing to go back to Ipswich because I'd had a great time there under Mick McCarthy, who's a great coach and manager.
"But he'd agreed I could go elsewhere if something came up and he wished me all the best.
"Tony Pulis was also great because I think Sheffield United manager Danny Wilson had rung him and the gaffer had spoken highly of me, which was nice of him.
"I probably gave up a bit of money to leave Stoke now, but I wanted to get it done because this is a very interesting challenge.
"I've never actually had the chance to go for a promotion with another club because I missed out on Stoke's by leaving for Sunderland."
His debut for Sheffield could hardly have been more memorable after two late goals – including an 89th-minute equaliser from former Stoke team-mate Dave Kitson – secured a 2-2 draw.
Not that Kitson was his only reminder of Stoke City.
He added: "There was also Richard Cresswell on the bench, who's also doing a bit of coaching nowadays.
"And then to cap it all off my old mate Andy Griffin came of the bench for Doncaster.
"We had about 5,000 fans with us and that kind of support reminds me of the Stoke fans.
"I was lucky enough to have a great relationship with them and I will always be thankful for that.
"The fans of the two clubs are very similar. They both love their football and they will both support players who give 110 per cent."
Higginbotham is now under contract at Sheffield United until the end of the season, but with the promise of a further deal dependent on games and winning promotion.
But whatever the summer brings, he intends playing for as long as he can.
"I want to play until my legs stop working," he vowed.
"What I don't want to do is get to the age of 36 or 37 and say 'you know what, I've finished a couple of years too early'.
"When you go down the leagues, there's always a challenge waiting for you and that's what I've got at Sheffield United.
"And it's another team in red and white stripes of course," added the former Southampton, Sunderland and (sadly) Stoke City defender.