Neil Warnock optimistic about masterminding promotion push for Middlesbrough
Neil Warnock will embark upon his 41st season as a manager knowing his hopes of dragging Middlesbrough into the Sky Bet Championship promotion race could rest off the pitch.
The vastly-experienced 71-year-old joined Boro with eight games of last season remaining, handed the task of keeping the relegation-threatened club in the second tier.
At the time, he likened himself to Red Adair, the American oil well firefighter, and having endured a frustrating summer transfer window as he attempts to build a side capable of challenging at the other end of the table, the flames are yet to be fully extinguished.
Asked what his current mission is on the eve of Friday night’s opener at relegated Watford, Warnock said with a smile: “Double Red Adair.
“I’m always optimistic, I always think you can push up towards those play-offs. If you can get up there by Christmas, I always think a couple of additions in January and you’ve got a great chance with three points for a win.
“But at the moment, we are short squad-wise. We are working hard. I don’t think [chairman] Steve [Gibson] has ever seen a period where we have missed so many transfer targets for one reason or another continually.
“But you’ve not got to get down, life’s too short. I suppose that’s the good thing about being my age – you don’t worry about yesterday as much as look forward to tomorrow.”
Boro were however boosted on Thursday by the arrival of goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli on a season-long loan from Fulham, with Warnock describing the 28-year-old as “a good lad” who will “fit in well”.
Boro eventually finished in 17th place last season, five points clear of the drop zone after winning four of those final eight games, all of them away from home, although Warnock admits they could hardly have been handed a tougher start this time around.
He said: “It’s difficult to see anybody other than them (Watford) winning the league, really.”
New Hornets boss Vladimir Ivic does indeed have a lengthy injury list which will rob him of the likes of Troy Deeney, Gerard Deulofeu and Danny Welbeck, although he has added Udinese defender Francisco Sierralta to the squad this week.
Midfielder Tom Cleverley has been encouraged by pre-season victories over Scunthorpe and Tottenham, but knows the stakes will be higher from this week on.
He told the club’s official website: “It’s an important game, we can’t get away from that. It sets the tone for the season.
“I think it could be a bit frantic at times, but we have to apply ourselves, work hard, do the basics and then hopefully the quality of our team will shine through and be enough to win the game.”