MARVIN JOHNSON says Middlesbrough’s players will not shy away from joining manager Neil Warnock in openly targeting promotion next season despite their struggles in the bottom half of the table last term.

Having become a free agent when his contract expired earlier in the summer, Johnson ended speculation over his future yesterday when he penned a new deal that will keep him at the Riverside until the end of next season, with the option for a further extension if things go well.

The 29-year-old emerged as a key player under Warnock, starting all eight of the games overseen by the Boro boss at left-back even though he had spent much of his previous career playing further up the field in midfield.

When Warnock agreed to extend his own spell on Teesside, he spoke candidly of his desire to start competing at the opposite end of the Championship table, and his belief that last year’s relegation battle could be transformed into a viable push for promotion. Middlesbrough’s players have heard his words, and wholeheartedly agree with their sentiment.

“The manager says it and we say it too – we want to be battling for promotion and we think we can do that,” said Johnson, who started just 21 of Boro’s 38 league matches prior to Warnock’s arrival. “We believe in the ability we’ve got in the changing room.

“Last year, it didn’t really work out, but we know that ourselves and we want to use that disappointment to drive us forwards. We know what the manager wants to do to turn things around, and he’s not going to hide away from what he wants. He won’t be beating around the bush, he’s straight to the point, and we know what our goals are for next season. There’s absolutely no doubt about that from the start.”

Having joined Boro in a £2.5m move from Oxford United in 2017, Johnson has struggled to hold down a regular first-team spot in his three seasons at the club.

His face did not fit under Tony Pulis, indeed he spent the whole of the 2018-19 season on loan at Sheffield United, where he was similarly unable to make much of an impression in the senior ranks.

His fortunes began to change under Jonathan Woodgate, albeit more often than not as a left or right midfielder, but it was only when Warnock stationed him at left-back that he really began to blossom.

His performances in the final eight games of last season persuaded Warnock to offer him a new deal, and having been shunted into the shadows by so many different managers, the newly-rebranded defender admits it is nice to be working for someone who clearly believes in his talents.

“There’s a number of managers in the country and each have got their own philosophy, playing styles and players they prefer to have playing for them,” said Johnson. “You can never judge a manager for preferring someone else over you. There’s so many different styles of players and preferences – you’ve just got to worry about yourself and keep yourself right.

“You’ve seen it up and down the leagues, and right across the country, players have done well under some managers and not so well under others. That’s just the way it is, but if you’ve got someone who backs you 100 per cent, then even before you’ve kicked a ball, it’s a massive boost. You go into every game and training session full of confidence, and although you always have to prove what you can do, the manager already knows. You just have to maintain that standard.”

As well as being impressed with Johnson’s performances on the pitch, Warnock was also won over by his attitude off it, most notably when he firmly signalled his desire to sign a short-term waiver enabling him to play on after his contract expired last season.

While Daniel Ayala, Ryan Shotton, Adam Clayton and Rudy Gestede opted not to make themselves available for some of the most crucial matches of the season, Johnson joined George Friend in agreeing to play.

He understands why some of his former team-mates were unwilling to jeopardise their future career prospects, but claims it would have felt wrong to bail out while Boro’s Championship status was still on the line.

“The closer it was coming to it, then in your mind you were thinking about if you got injured, what’s your next step? It was a tricky one for players out of contract,” he said. “But when I was at home and thinking about it, it was a case of, ‘Right, I’ll play and try to look after myself, but I’ll give what I can’.

“I was part of the team for the whole season, so I didn’t feel like I could bail out right at the end. It was either play or sit at home and do nothing for three weeks. The last thing I wanted was for the club to go down, so if I could play a part and help keep them up, that was perfect.”