NEIL WARNOCK admits he has not been able to identify a single ‘natural leader’ in the Middlesbrough squad, so he has to instruct George Friend and Jonny Howson to “shout more” to fill the void.

Having guided his side to a crucial victory at Stoke in his first game in charge on Saturday, Warnock leads his players back into action when they travel to another of their relegation rivals, Hull, tomorrow afternoon.

When he took over from Jonathan Woodgate, Warnock inherited a squad with plenty of talent, but it has not taken the 71-year-old long to identify some of the weaknesses that have left Boro scrapping for survival at the foot of the Championship.

A lack of defensive options is an issue – particularly in the wake of Daniel Ayala’s departure – but Warnock also regards an absence of leadership as a key factor in Boro’s struggles this season.

“Are there any natural leaders here? Not that I’ve seen so far,” said Boro’s new boss. “We all like one or two nasty people, don’t we? Well, I do.

“It’s important. I think Jonny and George would tell you they’re good pros, but whether they’re those dominant leaders we’re talking about, I’m not so sure about that.

“But they’ve got to be. Whether they like it or not, they have to be the vocal part because they’re the experienced pros in the team. I’ve asked both of them to probably shout more than they’ve done in the past, and to encourage some of the other players because we are short of that type of player, really.”

Warnock freely admits he has spent his first week as Middlesbrough manager challenging his players on the training ground in an attempt to ensure they have not lapsed into some sort of comfort zone.

Woodgate was extremely protective of his squad, to the point where he would refuse to criticise anyone in public and was also accused of being too soft in private, but while he was careful not to pick holes in his predecessor’s methods, Warnock is clearly much less afraid of upsetting his players.

“We can always look back in hindsight, but when you’ve done as many games as me, you’re not bothered about upsetting one or two,” he said. “I like them all to get on board, but there’s a way.

“We’d all like to be friends with the players, but the players can let you down when you’re like that. Some managers are too far away from the players and have no relationship with them – there’s a happy medium.

“Someone once told me about playing for Brian Clough and said if he passed them on the other side of the road, they wouldn’t have the time of day for him, but on a Saturday, they’d run through a brick wall for him. It’s that type of thing you need.”

In terms of his players’ commitment, Warnock received a positive sign earlier this week when Friend, Ryan Shotton, Adam Clayton and Marvin Johnson signed short-term waivers enabling them to see out the season.

At this stage, it remains uncertain whether the quartet will be remaining beyond the end of the current campaign, but Warnock is hoping to be able to provide some further clarity on the situation by the end of the week.

“I’ve been speaking to Neil (Bausor), behind the scenes, about the lads that are out of contract, so I’ll be talking to them again this week,” he said. “They’re all committed at the moment, but I’m going to catch up with them all again later in the week.”