NEIL WARNOCK admits his Middlesbrough strikers are suffering from a ‘crisis of confidence’ as they head into the final five games of the season.

Boro have crashed back into the Championship relegation zone after their former forward, Jordan Hugill, condemned them to a 1-0 defeat to QPR at the Riverside.

Hugill, who had an unsuccessful loan spell on his native Teesside last season, fired home a spectacular first-half winner to deepen Boro’s relegation worries and leave Warnock’s side one point adrift of safety with five games remaining.

For the second time in a week, Boro had plenty of possession against a side in the bottom half of the table, only to struggle to create chances or seriously test the opposition goalkeeper.

The Teessiders have scored five fewer goals than any other team in the Championship this season, and Warnock accepts a lack of confidence is having a negative effect.

“We didn’t put it in the net, it’s as simple as that,” said the Boro boss. “I can’t fault their effort. It’s disappointing to concede a goal in the manner we did, but that’s life, and we can’t take our chances.

“I think we had twice as many shots as they had, but we just need something to drop for us. I don’t think we’ve had anything to drop for us in the last few games. I think that’s what we need at the moment.

“It’s okay talking about it, but it’s very difficult to put that confidence back in if you’re losing games. If you’re a striker not scoring a goal, it’s hard. Take (Ashley) Fletcher’s chance (in the first half) – nine out of ten times, he’ll slide that in. But he just rushed it.

“Strikers are like that, they get in veins like that, but they are good strikers. We’ve just got to hope they come good for the last five games. They’re quite capable of that – they just have to keep persevering. You can’t fault their work ethic – they’ve worked really hard.”

Nevertheless, with Stoke having thrashed Barnsley on Saturday, Boro find themselves back in the bottom three ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Millwall.

They are a point adrift of Hull City, who suffered a 4-2 defeat at West Brom yesterday, and two points behind Huddersfield, Charlton and Stoke, although the situation will change if the EFL carry through their pledge to impose a 12-point penalty on Wigan Athletic following the Latics’ move into administration last week.

If Wigan have 12 points removed from their total, they will move to the bottom of the table, but with a threat of legal action hanging over the points penalty, Warnock insists Boro cannot afford to leave their fate in the hands of the authorities.

“We’ve got to concentrate on ourselves,” he said. “I think there could be a few clubs in trouble in the next few weeks by the sound of it, but we can’t just rely on other people.

“If we don’t get results, I think Luton and Barnsley will pass us. We’ve got to get on with it now. We’ve got a difficult game on Wednesday, but they’re all difficult. We’ve just got to hope we get the rub of the green a bit.”

Warnock made three changes from the side that lost at Hull, stationing Harold Moukoudi as a holding midfielder and selecting Ravel Morrison at the heart of midfield, but he did not feel his alterations were a factor in his side’s latest defeat.

“I thought Moukoudi did ever so well, and I thought Ravel did too,” he said. “I’ve got no complaints about them two. I just thought the way they play, their lads behind the strikers were a bit too much for a Jonny Howson-type player. Harold has been very good. I don’t think that department was a problem – it’s putting the ball in the net that is proving to be the problem.”

Hugill found the net in spectacular fashion 13 minutes before the break, picking up the ball close to the right touchline before arcing a dipping 30-hard half-volley into the net.

The 28-year-old was born and bred on Teesside, and worked as a barman in the Dickens Inn while he was trying to make it as a Northern League player. He described playing for Middlesbrough last season as ‘the proudest moment of his life’, but yesterday’s strike has increased the likelihood of his hometown team playing in League One next season.

“I’m sure it’s difficult for him,” said QPR boss Mark Warburton. “It’s his hometown club and he’s a big Boro fan. It’s difficult when he scores the goal, but without being rude to Middlesbrough, he plays for QPR now.

“We pay his wages and it’s important he performs for QPR. He’s done that all season, and he’s done it again today. I’m sure it was mixed emotions for him after the whistle, but when you’re an athlete, you get on with the game.”