NEIL WARNOCK has dropped his strongest hint yet that he is ready to remain as Middlesbrough manager – and claims he will be celebrating one of his ‘biggest achievements’ in management if he guides the Teessiders to Championship safety this afternoon.

Boro host Warnock’s former club, Cardiff City, knowing a victory will guarantee their Championship survival. A point will realistically do given the Teessiders’ goal difference is so superior to that of both Hull City and Luton Town, and safety will be secured ahead of Wednesday’s final game at Sheffield Wednesday even if Boro lose if Hull’s game with Luton at the KCOM Stadium ends in a draw.

Once safety is assured, thoughts will immediately turn to next season, with Warnock’s position as manager the first issue that needs to be addressed.

The 71-year-old’s agreement with Steve Gibson only extends to the end of the current campaign, but while he is still refusing to make a categorical statement about his future, his comments about next season in yesterday’s press conference strongly suggest he is keen to stick around.

“I always wanted to work up here, even before my Cardiff days,” said Warnock. “For many years, I’ve always fancied working for Steve Gibson, but it has never come off for one reason or another.

“If I am honest, in a way, I want to show Steve what kind of manager I am - more so than even the fans or anything else. At this stage of my career, you have to have targets, and one of them is that. It would be nice to get this club on a footing where we are not looking down.

“I’ll be having a chat with Steve in the next week. We’ve still got two games to go at the moment, but by then it will be over and we will know where we are.”

Tellingly, Warnock has already held a series of detailed discussions with Boro’s recruitment team to outline the changes he feels will be required this summer.

He is targeting “five or six” additions, with central defence a cause of particular concern given the departure of Daniel Ayala, Ryan Shotton and Harold Mokoudi, and the possible exit of George Friend, whose short-term contract extension expires next week.

“I think it’s really down the spine of the team we need to be looking at,” said Warnock. “I really think we need five or six good players to supplement the squad that’s already here.

“Right down the spine is important, and nothing really changes when it comes to making signings. It’s about getting good value and getting the right players in. We might have to get a bit of money in at the same time if we’re going to spend money, but that’s what managing is all about it, trying to balance the books at the same time as getting the right players.”

Before any firm plans can be put in place, Boro need to guarantee their survival, and having inherited a side that had fallen to within a place of the relegation zone when Jonathan Woodgate was dismissed, Warnock will regard keeping his current employers in the Championship as one of his biggest achievements.

“It would be up there with anything I’ve done,” he said. “After the first week of being involved, I knew it was going to be difficult. When I looked at the squad, I could see it was a bit lopsided.

“It’s not for the lads’ lack of trying – everyone has given me everything – it’s just that we’ve constantly had to put square pegs in round holes. They’ve done that though, and we’ve managed to pick the results up. It would be really nice to get that point and secure our future – and I’d think of it as a real achievement.”

Middlesbrough (5-4-1): Pears; Spence, Dijksteel, Fry, Friend, Johnson; Roberts, Howson, Saville, Tavernier; Fletcher.