Jonathan Woodgate was relieved of his duties as Middlesbrough manager with the side only above the relegation zone on goal difference with seven games remaining. Championship veteran Neil Warnock has been quickly drafted in and oversaw a win in his opening game. This was followed by a last-minute defeat to relegation rivals Hull City. Now the club are just above the drop with a few games to go, can Warnock work his old magic to drag this proud club to safety?
Middlesbrough were a Premier League club as recently as the 2016/17 season as well as being a mainstay in the top division between 1998-2009. The club boasted huge talents like Juninho, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, and Fabrizio Ravanelli down the years, whilst under Steve McClaren they won a League Cup and went all the way to the UEFA Cup final; ultimately losing to Sevilla.
Despite their obvious decline from these high points, the club have always appeared steady in the Championship with consistent finishes around the play-off places. A relegation battle in the second tier represents uncharted territory for the club, although not for Neil Warnock who masterminded a great escape for Rotherham in the 2015/16 season.
In that season Warnock led the squad on an 11-game unbeaten run having assumed control in February, however, he does not have the luxury of such time on this occasion. Regardless, Warnock will be encouraged by Middlesbrough’s fixture list for the remainder of the season. Play-off chasing Cardiff (one of Warnock’s many former clubs) perhaps represent the biggest challenge ahead but are far from unbeatable.
Middlesbrough have a cushion above both Barnsley and Luton Town and the club must feel confident of staying above the Tykes, at least, as Barnsley’s final fixtures are against sides in the top six, including leaders Leeds, who can secure promotion with a win and have great odds on the Championship with expectations of them winning the title at 1/12. Luton have improved since the restart with the arrival of Nathan Jones but look to have left it too little too late.
Warnock’s men must see Wigan in 15th place as the club they are most likely to finish above. The Latics are facing a 12-point deduction, after entering administration, which would see them drop to rock bottom in the Championship. Warnock will ensure absolute focus on their own responsibilities, however, and will not want to entertain relying on favours from other clubs to ensure their safety. The Yorkshireman demands absolute commitment from his players as exemplified by his decision to release Rudy Gestede early following his refusal to play beyond the end of June.
The club will be desperate to avoid joining their North-East rivals Sunderland in League One next season and Warnock won’t want to sully his own record with a Championship relegation. With talented players like Britt Assombalonga still at the club and a vastly experienced manager now at the helm, Middlesbrough fans can be cautiously optimistic of survival.