By Simon O'Rourke, Sport Correspondent
2020/21 season preview: Middlesbrough FC
It's Warnock's Way now, for better or worse. History strongly suggests it won't be worse, it'll be a lot better. Maybe even better than Boro fans dare imagine.
STORY OF THE SUMMER:
A brush with disaster, a sad (but sadly inevitable) parting of the ways with Jonathan Woodgate. Then enter Neil Warnock: the veteran's veteran, the Championship Jedi. More promotions and victorious relegation battles than you can shake a stick at. No-nonsense Neil led Boro to safety in the Championship and then (to no one's great surprise) he agreed to stay on permanently. He'd always fancied the idea of working for Steve Gibson and the Boro Chairman wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth. In the uncertain Covid-19 world of 2020, handing the keys to Mr. Tried and Tested was the obvious thing to do.
Fine, but not enough. Not nearly enough, in fact not even close. A tough reliable defender in Grant Hall and an obvious first-choice goalkeeper in Marcus Bettinelli. But for one reason or another, a lot of Boro's old guard have drifted away over the summer, so as things stand, and in the words of Warnock himself, "My first 11 is good enough to give anyone a game, but my bench looks a bit fragile".
Neil Warnock. About to enter his 41st season of management and the undisputed elder statesman of Championship conflict. He's renowned for his brilliant man-management. He took Notts County up to the top flight before it even became the Premier League. Warnock's taken Sheffield United, QPR and Cardiff up from the Championship to the Premier League. Cardiff is the Boro Blueprint. He took over the Bluebirds when they were struggling in the Championship and kept them up. The next season he took them up.
Can a team go from relegation fodder to promotion challengers in the space of a single season? Well, yes. (See: Cardiff City under Warnock) But can this Middlesbrough Squad do that? Honestly, I don't know. The Championship just gets harder every year and Boro's squad, currently, is threadbare. It absolutely won't be another relegation battle, but I'm not yet 100% convinced it'll flip to the other end of the table. Warnock is an alchemist though - he can turn base materials into gold. They need to be lucky with injuries, they absolutely need to get a few more in before the transfer window shuts and, basically, they need the wind behind them. If all that goes their way, Warnock's Boro can make the playoffs.