NEIL WARNOCK will sit down with Patrick Roberts to discuss his Middlesbrough future, but is extremely reluctant to allow the winger to make an early return to Manchester City in case he needs him in the second half of the season.

Roberts signed a season-long loan when he rejoined Boro in October, but has struggled to make an impact in the last two months. He has made just three Championship starts this season, and is set to remain on the substitutes’ bench when the Teessiders host Luton Town this evening.

With Warnock hoping to make a couple of additions when the transfer window reopens next month, it has been suggested that Roberts’ loan deal could be cut short in order to free up some room on the wage bill.

However, while the Boro boss appreciates Roberts will be desperate to increase his chances of playing regular first-team football, he has to balance the 23-year-old’s wishes against his own needs as the manager of a club with a small senior squad.

“I’ve got to have a talk (with Roberts),” said Warnock. “There’s two or three lads that have not really had an opportunity, and everybody wants to play. They all want to be involved, and I have to manage that as I see fit.

“I’ve got to speak to the players and see how they feel, but first and foremost, I’ve learned my lesson over the years, I’ve got to look after the club. I can’t be swayed just because an agent rings me up or a dad of one of the players says, ‘He’s got to leave or go out on loan’ – I can’t be working on that.

“I’ve got to look after the club first at this moment in time because it’s a difficult period. We’ve never experienced it before. In the past, where I would have let someone leave and brought someone else in, it was straightforward. But it’s not like that anymore.”

While negotiating next month’s transfer window is unlikely to be a simple task, Warnock has begun the process of approaching potential signings in an attempt to ensure he is able to hit the ground running at the start of next month.

Everton’s Yannick Bolasie remains a leading target, with the framework of a loan deal already in place after talks collapsed on deadline day in October, while West Brom’s Kamil Grosicki, who was an 80th-minute substitute in the Baggies’ weekend defeat at Newcastle, is another potential recruit.

“We’re down the process, as I’m sure everybody is,” said Warnock. “We want to get them in as early as we can, not at the last minute again. We are short. We just need a bit of help, so we’ve talked to two or three already.

“I had a chat with a lad yesterday (on Monday). We’re all looking at what we can and can’t do, and the sooner we get them in the better, really. You’ve all seen our substitutes’ bench – it’s really thin on the ground at the minute.”

The wide attacking positions remain Warnock’s key priority, even though he admits he is down to the bare bones at centre-half and currently unable to rest either Dael Fry or Paddy McNair.

“Grant’s (Hall) not going to be too long, he’s talking about the end of January, so it’s difficult for a manager,” said Warnock. “I was talking to a top Premier League club about one of their players (in October), but if I brought him in, he’d have to play. I didn’t bring him in, I used Woody (Nathan Wood) and Grant at that particular time, and the player I was looking at ended up playing in the Champions League.

“You just don’t know how things are going to go. But it’s one of those seasons where I think we’re going to have to make do with a small amount of numbers rather than risk having bigger problems.”