Middlesbrough go to high flying Swansea City this weekend (Sat, KO 3pm) with one eye on next season.
Boro fans were delighted when Neil Warnock announced on Thursday he was staying on as boss for next season.
And the wily old coach, 72 and still full of fight, is already thinking about a concerted future promotion – but he knows he will have to tinker with a side that has been too inconsistent this term.
After flirting with the top six, Boro have coughed and spluttered as the season reaches the sharp end and despite a last gasp 2-1 win at Coventry in midweek they have drifted to ninth, five points off the pace. Defeat at promotion chasing Swansea could kill off their outside hopes.
But Warnock has revealed he is already planning for next season. “I’ve been speaking to Steve for a few months and telling him what I think we need,” said the boss. He needs a couple of quality players to act as a catalyst in a squad he is largely happy with.
“We haven’t got to think about signing six or seven players. We’re a bit short on 24-29 year olds, if we can sign two or three players to supplement the squad we’ve got a very exciting few years ahead.
“I don’t think we need much, I’m not looking at a major overhaul. We’ve already re-signed the major positions. We’re looking for one or two players and Steve is determined to get me them. I won’t spend money stupidly.”
Boro are still in with a chance but that is fading – although Warnock wouldn’t turn down promotion if it happened and he has no fears that most of squad could step up.
“Not really, if I’m honest,” said Warnock, when quizzed on whether he’s thought about what might be needed if Boro were to go up through the play-offs.
“We’ve been so inconsistent. You can’t get promotion like that. I’ll be honest though, if we did I’ve got quite a lot of players that could play in the Premier League. I’d be very happy with a lot of them, a lot more players than I’ve probably had at other clubs.”
Swansea will be a tough test for a Boro side that has struggled with injuries and failed to find a rhythm of late.
The Swans – who have the best defence in the division – are just one point off second placed Brentford with two games in hand so have a great incentive against Boro.
And Warnock has warned they are an impressive outfit – but can be horrible too.
“They’re a good side,” he said. “He’s got a good group of players, and they’ve done ever so well,” said Warnock.
“But I think we can go anywhere and give them a game, as we did at Norwich and Brentford. It’s about how we are,” he added.
“We’ve nothing to lose. We’ll not be going down there to shut up shop. You’ve got to hope that your strikers can cause problems and that our defenders can cope with the strike force that they’ve got.
“We will have to watch out for Andre Ayew. Whether they’ll be able to keep him next season, I’m not sure. Obviously I’m aware of what wages he’s on, but he’s a good player.
“He’s horrible at times. I love it, me. I think he’s a great player. If he does find himself short next season he’s quite welcome to come up here. We’ll have to have one of those GoFundMe raising things!”
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