WHEN Neil Warnock eventually retires from real-life football management, perhaps he will devote himself to the ‘Championship Manager’ simulation game instead. On Saturday’s evidence, the 71-year-old is already a dab hand at leading a team via his laptop.

Watching Middlesbrough’s meeting with Bournemouth unfold from the comfort of his home as he isolates following a positive test for Covid, Warnock could sense a change was required as his players trailed to Dominic Solanke’s somewhat fortuitous first-half opener.

When Ashley Fletcher began to hobble after suffering a knock, he sensed it was worth throwing on Marcus Browne, even though the substitute had never scored for Boro. A Zoom call to the Middlesbrough bench later, with Warnock relaying instructions to Kevin Blackwell, and Browne was on the field. Thirteen minutes later, and the replacement was nodding home Paddy McNair’s pinpoint cross to secure Boro’s first Championship point of the season.

“Neil said before the game, ‘Let’s look to use Browney’, and it was a great shout,” said Blackwell, who will remain in charge as Warnock closets himself away this week. “It worked fantastically.

“The technology now meant Neil could speak to the boys before the warm-up. And he had a chat at the end to let them know how proud he was. He didn’t call a lot throughout the game, to be fair, because the performance was that good. But he definitely had a shout in what was going on.”

If Warnock was delighted to see his hunch pay off, then Browne will have been even more satisfied with the way things played out as Boro deservedly salvaged a draw from a game they dominated for long periods.

The 22-year-old has had a difficult 12 months since joining from West Ham. Signed by Jonathan Woodgate, discarded by Tony Pulis, who sent him back to Oxford, where he had also spent the previous season on loan, and now rehabilitated under Warnock, the youngster has already experienced plenty of highs and lows during his fledgling career.

Boro’s current coaching staff can see plenty of potential though, and after turning down a series of loan offers from clubs in the Championship and League One earlier this summer, both Warnock and Blackwell are determined to give a new bulked-out Browne an opportunity to prove his value this season.

“What we want from Marcus is that energy,” said Blackwell. “We know he’s quite quick over a few years, and we’ve been working on a bit of strength so he’s not too easily bullied off the ball. We don’t want that.

“He can move the ball and strike it though, so it’s just about him getting up to the tempo we demand. If he can do that, he definitely has a part to play.”

Browne’s intervention at the weekend prevented Boro’s second league game from following an identical pattern to their first, and ensured the 1,000-or-so fans watching on from the West Stand as part of an EFL trial were able to leave with smiles on their faces.

As had been the case at Watford, Boro were the better side for most of the game, only for their inability to convert chances to be compounded by a defensive lapse. Solanke was afforded far too much room as he flicked home a corner via a deflection off Grant Hall.

Boro’s best chance of an equaliser looked to have gone when Browne failed to control a rebound off Asmir Begovic, resulting in George Saville prodding home from an offside position. Eight minutes later, though, and Browne made amends as he converted McNair’s cross.