NEIL WARNOCK admits he is shocked by Middlesbrough’s lack of goals this season, but in Britt Assombalonga, Ashley Fletcher and Patrick Roberts, the new Boro boss is confident he has a forward line capable of firing his side to safety.

Having won their first game under their new manager at Stoke at the weekend, Boro’s players return to action in another relegation six-pointer this evening when they travel to Hull City’s KCOM Stadium.

The Teessiders are two places and two points ahead of their opponents in the table, but have scored 13 fewer goals than the Tigers. In fact, their tally of 39 goals from 39 league games makes them easily the lowest scorers in the whole of the division, something that perplexes Warnock given the depth of attacking talent in the squad.

Assombalonga is a proven scorer at Championship level, Fletcher played in the Premier League with West Ham and Roberts is regarded as one of the most exciting attacking-wide players outside the Premier League thanks to his performances during two separate loan spells at Celtic.

Throw in Lewis Wing, Paddy McNair and Marcus Tavernier, who have all proved themselves capable of scoring from midfield, and you have the makings of a decent attack, so Warnock accepts it is high time his forward players started living up to their billing in the final third.

“When you look at our squad, there’s an awful lot of talent up front, but I’ve said to them, I don’t look at the goals for column and think it’s very good, if I’m honest,” said the Boro boss. “To say that there are players there that I rate, I don’t think the return this season has been all that impressive.

“So I’ve told the front three, I think there should be more goals. I think those three can keep us up, if they all function between now and the end of the season. It’s a vital area, and you can throw Tav (Tavernier) in there too because I think he has some really good ability as well. Between them, the talent is definitely there. But they have to do it.”

Warnock is set to keep his front three together again tonight after they impressed at the weekend, and he will be instructing them to remain on the front foot as they look to inflict further damage on a Hull side that have gone 14 games in all competitions without a victory.

While he likes to ensure his defenders are well-drilled, Warnock has always afforded a large amount of freedom to his attackers in the final third, and in Roberts in particular, he thinks he has a player who should relish the chance to play with the shackles off.

“I want them to be able to express themselves and not be afraid,” he said. “I’ve said I don’t mind how many times Roberts takes a man on in the last third of the pitch – if he loses it every time, you won’t get me shouting at him. But if he does it in his own half, it’ll be a different matter.

“I want to give Assombalonga and Fletcher that freedom too, but I also want to see them defending from the front, and I thought they did that really well on Saturday, which is just as important when you lose the ball. Then, I thought they always looked a threat going forward, which is what I want. That helped the midfield lads get closer to them as well.”

With just six more games to play after today’s match, Warnock’s central message to his players could not be starker.

“The lads have got to play now,” he said. “Not just for their own pride, but because they want to keep the club in the division.”

Middlesbrough (probable, 4-3-3): Stojanovic; Spence, Fry, Friend, Johnson; Saville, Howson, McNair; Roberts, Assombalonga, Fletcher.