Middlesbrough go to relegation battlers Rotherham tonight (KO 6pm) with boss Neil Warnock admitting he has a divided dressing room and his planned end of season purge can’t come fast enough.
It will be a tough test against a side third bottom and desperate for points and Warnock knows his vulnerable looking side will be seen as lambs to the slaughter by his former club. “It’s a disgrace really,” he growled.
“Other teams will be thinking ‘bloody hell they’re playing Middlesbrough, they don’t win games now’. I can’t see us beating anybody if we keep making mistakes or not taking chances that you should take on a Sunday league pitch.
“Rotherham will be quite confident and others will look at it and think exactly the same. I still think it’s possible we can score quite a few goals, but it’s been terrible the goals we’ve conceded in the last four games, it’s been a disgrace really.”
The Boro boss has been increasingly frustrated as results and performances have tailed off badly in recent weeks leaving hopes of a Championship play-off place a distant memory.
Boro have drifted through five grey games, taken just one point and shipped some shambolic self-inflicted goals in a marked slump. And worse, old warhorse Warnock knows that some of his team have not been pulling their weight. After last week’s defeat to QPR he talked of ‘cliques’ and players who ‘wanted out’. Now he is ready to help them on their way.
“Do I feel let down? Yes I do,” he said in his pre-Rotherham press conference. “It is the timing of it really. I didn’t see it coming really. I thought they would give me everything until the end of the season then we’d move on.
“I’ve had to bite my tongue in interviews after games when really I wanted to say much more at times. You get players at this time of a season who are looking out for themselves, thinking about their next contract. That’s human nature.
“But there will be big changes here over the summer and next year they will all be my players and that idea excites me. We just need to get through these next four games.”
Having identified players who don’t want to be part of his set-up and with injury problems Warnock may be ready to blood some youngsters in a sink-or-swim baptism of fire in the final few games to give them a chance to stake a claim.
In recent weeks he has trailed the imminent audition of young striker Josh Coburn while Connor Malley and Hayden Hackney have also been training with the first team and may get a chance, even if it could be a real battle.
“People will say Rotherham are desperate for points and ask if it is a good game for youngsters,” said Warnock. “But Sheffield Wednesday will be desperate for points, Wycombe will be desperate for points, Luton will be. So when do I throw them in?”
But he knows it will be a real scrap. Rotherham, a team close to his heart, are just four points from safety and have three games in hand on dismal Derby and with everything to play for.
“They’ve had a right good go this season and I hope they stay up, me,” he said. Warnock engineered a great escape from relegation in a short spell at the New York Stadium in 2016. “It is a great club with great people and I had a fantastic time there and it gave me back an enjoyment that I thought I’d forgotten about.
“But I want to go there and give them a game. They physically battered us at our place and won 3-0 and I’m hoping we can match them, get a handle on them and give them a far better game this time.”
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