NEIL WARNOCK will give Patrick Roberts a free attacking rein as he attempts to build on Saturday’s perfect start at Stoke City and guide Middlesbrough to safety in the remaining seven games of the season.

Warnock’s tenure as Boro boss got off to the ideal start as goals from Ashley Fletcher and Marcus Tavernier secured the 2-0 win that lifted the Teessiders to 19th position in the Championship table, two points clear of the bottom three.

The 71-year-old made six changes to the side that started Jonathan Woodgate’s final game as manager, with one of the alterations seeing Roberts start on the right-hand side of Boro’s attack.

The Manchester City loanee was a threat throughout, setting up Fletcher’s headed opener with a measured free-kick delivery into the box, and while Warnock will be encouraging him to make better decisions in the next seven matches, he will also be giving him the freedom to express himself in the final third.

“I love exciting players like him,” said Warnock, who became the first Middlesbrough manager to win his first game in charge of the club since Bryan Robson in 1994. “I could have given him a bit of a rollocking to be honest because a couple of times he was too greedy – he could have put people in and done things – but when you’re a wide player and you do things, I don’t mind.

“As long as you do things in the right areas and don’t do it in your own half, I won’t have a problem. I thought all of the front three did well. Defending starts with your front three, and I wouldn’t want to mark those three if I’m honest, if I was any defence.”

Like his fellow loanees, Harold Moukoudi and Ravel Morrison, Roberts has agreed to extend his stay until the end of the season.

Warnock intends to tie up the contractual situation of George Friend, Ryan Shotton Jonny Howson, Adam Clayton and Marvin Johnson in the next 24 hours, with the strong indication that all five will sign short-term waivers enabling them to play in the next seven games.

Rudy Gestede refused to commit himself to the end of the season, and also refused Boro’s offer of a new longer-term deal on reduced terms, so Warnock instructed the striker to leave the club’s training ground on Thursday.

Gestede’s Boro career is therefore at an end, and he will be remembered as one of the worst pound-for-pound signing in the club’s history. He cost £6m when he signed from Blackburn Rovers in January 2017, and at a conservative estimate, has picked up more than £5.5m in wages during his time on Boro’s books. He scored six goals in the league and two in the FA Cup during that three-and-a-half year period.

“Rudy came, we had a good chat, and I asked him to stay,” said Warnock. “He said he wasn’t prepared to do that, so I said, ‘Well you might as well go home now then’. I sent him home on Thursday really, there was no point in doing anything else. I’ve spoken to most of the other lads, but I’m not really 100 per cent on where we’re at with them yet. We’ll have to see next week about that.”

Warnock has enjoyed himself since taking over from Woodgate last Tuesday, and while Saturday inevitably felt different because of the lack of spectators at Stoke’s bet365 Stadium, the managerial veteran still relished being back in the technical area.

“It was strange,” he admitted. “I didn’t even have too much of a go at the referee and linesman either so it must have been strange!

“All of this is why I’m still in the game really. I love trying to make players better than they are, and get them to have that belief in themselves. When people take on board what you’re asking, it’s very rewarding.

“I’ve missed that banter around the dressing room because I like that. It’s the best part of the job really. I’m sure it’s been a little bit different for the lads, but that’s how I am and I’m not going to change now.

“It’s a great result, but we’re miles away from being safe. The lads have to take things on board now, recover and have a couple of days easy, and then we’ll look towards the Hull game.”