NEIL WARNOCK will attempt to resolve Middlesbrough’s outstanding contract situations before his side return to Championship action at Stoke City on Saturday.

Apart from Daniel Ayala, who will not be returning to Rockliffe Park before his contract formally ends next week, Warnock will have a full squad to select from as he ponders his side for the trip to the Bet365 Stadium.

However, with six other members of the first-team squad due to become free agents on June 1, it is not yet clear whether he will still have a full contingent by the time Boro travel to Hull City for a potentially crucial relegation clash in seven days’ time.

George Friend, Ryan Shotton, Jonny Howson, Adam Clayton, Marvin Johnson and Rudy Gestede are all due to reach the end of their contract next Wednesday, and while a number have agreed to sign a short-tern waiver extending their current deal, Jonathan Woodgate admitted last weekend that “one or two” were still considering their options.

“I’m planning to speak to Neil (Bausor, chief executive) when I get a minute,” admitted Warnock, who has a whirlwind 48 hours since travelling to the North-East for talks on Monday afternoon. “I will be looking at that – I know one of two lads have committed themselves to playing.”

Given that five of the six players with an uncertain future started against Swansea last weekend, Warnock will be keen to have as many as possible at his disposal for the remaining eight matches.

He has inherited a side sitting 21st in the table, with only goal difference separating them from the bottom three, and who have only claimed two victories in the whole of this calendar year.

Steve Gibson clearly feels that Woodgate was a contributing factor to his side’s malaise, hence his decision to dispense with the former head coach’s services earlier this week, but Warnock admits Boro’s dire league placing cannot be written off as an aberration.

The Teessiders have been battling in the bottom third of the table for the majority of the season, so just because they have opted to change manager, their Championship survival cannot be taken as a given.

“We’re down there for a reason,” admitted Warnock. “You can’t pull any punches. Big clubs have gone down before, so it’s a really precarious position, but we’ve got eight games to go.

“It’s difficult, but other clubs will have difficulty as well. Six or seven clubs are in trouble. There’s a lot of points to play for, and it’s always surprising. You think this game and that game is the be all and end all, but the run-in is really difficult for everyone - every team has something to play for.”

Warnock’s first task is to instil some confidence into a group of players that will have been understandably shaken by this week’s events.

Woodgate remained popular to the end, and the players are understood to have been surprised by the decision to dismiss him. However, with three games in the next ten days, they cannot afford to allow any disappointment or negativity to linger.

“I think you have to let the players know what you want from them,” said Warnock. “I have to try and help the lads during the training sessions, I have to help the lads and let them know what I think they should be doing.

“There’s no doubt there’s ability in the squad, but you have to look at why they are where they are in the league with all that ability.

“But I do enjoy trying to plan something and try to escape, to be an escapologist, I do enjoy that side of the game. I do enjoy that thrill, trying to get enough points to help a team keep its head above water.”

This will be the 18th managerial spell of Warnock’s much-travelled managerial career, and he needs to preside over 11 more matches to pass the 1,500-game mark in professional management.

Whether he remains in charge next season or not, this could prove to be his final hurrah, although in characteristically enigmatic fashion, he is not committing himself to that just yet.

“I wish I had a pound every time someone had asked whether this or that was my last job,” said Warnock. “Nobody knows what’s around the corner. It’s been a horrific time for the country – I’m just so glad football is back. It gives people something to talk about, and the talking point has lifted everybody.

“The opportunity to help out, I know it’s only eight games, but I’ve never been one to worry.”