NEIL WARNOCK claims his Middlesbrough players are peaking at just the right time ahead of Friday’s Carabao Cup season-opener against Shrewsbury Town – but the Boro boss accepts his current squad is far too small to survive the rigours of a full Championship season.

Boro completed their pre-season preparations in style this afternoon as they thrashed North-East rivals Newcastle United 5-1 in a behind-closed-doors game at Rockliffe Park.

Britt Assombalonga maintained his strong pre-season form with an early double, before further goals from Marcus Tavernier, Grant Hall and Stephen Walker completed the Teessiders’ success.

Hall, who was a free signing after leaving QPR, is the only player to have joined Boro since the end of last season, and while Warnock has been working hard on a number of deals in the last few days, most notably involving Charlton goalkeeper Dillon Phillips, he does not expect to have any new faces in place ahead of Friday’s opening game.

Nevertheless, with a host of senior players having left in the last couple of months, he accepts the need to sign reinforcements before the transfer window closes in the middle of next month.

“We are short of players,” said Warnock. “It’s been good today, but if you look at the team that finished today, we really are short on players at the minute. But we are working hard. We can’t work any harder to try to bring them in. I can’t see any this week, but we’ve just got to keep going.”

Assombalonga’s sharpness is a major boost, with Boro’s club-record signing also having scored in last month’s friendly win over Plymouth Argyle.

Ashley Fletcher and Tavernier played on either side of him yesterday, and having watched his forwards spurn a succession of chances in the closing stages of last season, Warnock was delighted to see a more clinical edge on display yesterday.

“Everything was right,” he said. “The opponents were tough, and it was nice to take the chances when they came. We’ve created a lot of chances so far, and we’ve not really been able to take them, but it was good today to see the goals go in.

“We worked hard, and we’ve got to work hard. You could see that both teams were still in pre-season and experimenting. But I was delighted with the work ethic, and we played some good football at times as well. It’s just a build up to that first game of the season really, but we’re getting a bit sharper and you could see that in some of the play today. I think we can get better.”

Assombalonga, curled an early chance over the crossbar, before finding the target in the seventh minute. Having outmuscled his marker in the Newcastle defence, he calmly slotted home.

Miguel Almiron forced Dejan Stojanovic into a save as Newcastle tried to rally, but Boro doubled their lead when Assombalonga scored again after a slick one-two with Fletcher.

Tavernier extended Boro's lead further as he drilled home from the edge of the area, before Newcastle scored their only goal of the game shortly before the break. Allan Saint-Maximum wriggled away from Hall as the Magpies broke and slotted past Stojanovic.

The game was played with an intensity that belied its status as a friendly, and tempers boiled over at the start of the second half. An off-the-ball confrontation resulted in both Lewis Wing and Jamaal Lascelles receiving red cards.

The resultant free-kick went in Boro's favour, and Hall out-jumped the Newcastle defence to head home his side's fourth goal.

Warnock made a number of changes in the final half-hour, introducing the likes of Sam Folarin, Ben Liddle, Sam Stubbs and Walker, and Folarin set up Marcus Browne for a shot that was narrowly missed.

Browne played in Marc Bola in the closing stages, and after the full-back was brought down in the box, Walker converted from the spot to complete Boro's success.

Boro’s players will be buoyed by their victory as they complete their preparations for Friday’s League Cup game, but Warnock does not think Steve Bruce should be too concerned by the scale of his side’s defeat even though Newcastle’s Premier League opener against West Ham United is now less than a fortnight away.

“You can’t judge too much in pre-season games,” he said. “I’m sure Steve will know it’s different when the competitiveness starts with that first whistle of that first proper match.

"Some players need that, but I was just delighted with my own team really. That’s all I worry about.”