THE template was set at Loftus Road. Appointed as QPR boss in March 2010, Neil Warnock led a struggling side to safety in the final two months of the season. The following year, he won promotion to the Premier League as QPR were crowned Championship champions.

Fast forward to Cardiff City. Appointed in October 2016, Warnock brushed aside on and off-field problems to lead his Bluebirds side away from trouble and into the sanctity of mid-table. The following season, after some summer reshaping, he led Cardiff to automatic promotion to the top-flight.

On to Middlesbrough, and the question of whether lightning can strike for a third time. Win or draw against Cardiff this afternoon, and Warnock will have achieved the first task of his Teesside tenure. Championship survival, given the mess he inherited when he took over from Jonathan Woodgate last month, is not something to be sniffed at.

Longer term, though, hopes will be somewhat higher. If, as looks increasingly likely, Warnock agrees to remain in charge next season, can he turn a struggling team into promotion contenders. It is possible to transform the current Boro squad, with its obvious limitations, into a side that could realistically target a place in the Premier League?

“Wherever I am, I always think I can do something special,” said Warnock, ahead of today’s meeting with his most recent employers. “At some clubs, you need more than others to get yourselves into a good position.

“There are some good players around, and this club is going to need quite a few of them in the coming weeks to give themselves a chance. You have to be lucky with the signings, hoping that they fit in and kick on when the season starts.

“At the moment, it’s very difficult because we do need quite a lot and we’ve got a lot of players out of contract as well. It’s going to be a massive job for Neil Bausor and Steve (Gibson) in the next few weeks.

“But I don’t think anything is impossible in the Championship. They’re a good group of lads here, and they’ve got ability going forwards. Every successful side has to keep clean sheets, and I don’t see too many of them – that’s what we’d be working on.”

If any Teessider wants a glimpse of what a Warnock-shaped Boro team might look like next season, they need only cast an eye over the Cardiff side that will line up at the Riverside this afternoon.

Warnock signed all bar three of the players that lined up for the Bluebirds as they beat Derby on Tuesday night, and the general shape of the Cardiff team that is likely to start against Boro says much about how he likes to play.

He puts a lot of stock in exciting, pacy wide players – Junior Hoilett and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing fitting the bill – but likes his defenders to be rugged and uncompromising, as epitomised by Sean Morrison, who was his club captain, and Curtis Nelson, who he signed from Oxford United.

“When I look at that Cardiff team, I think it’s the type of team you need to succeed in the Championship, especially on limited funds,” said Warnock. “When you look at some of the teams at the top end, the Fulhams of this world, money seems to be no object. But with the belts being tightened at the moment, when you look at Cardiff, you have to be impressed with what they’ve got there.

“It’s not just the team, it’s the squad down there, the substitutes, everything. It’s a great squad, and I take a lot of pride when I look at that squad. I think the fans do too. But I’m up here helping out here now, and I’d like to think we could shape the squad here for next season. Whether I’m manager or not, I know what’s needed.”

Warnock still retains a lot of affection for Cardiff, and while he is determined to dent his former club’s promotion hopes this afternoon, they remain his tip for the play-offs.

“I’d love to see them go up,” he said. “When I left, I did say that in the second half of the season, I thought they could get in the play-offs.

“If they get in, I only see Brentford as a danger to them. I don’t see any of the other teams beating them.”