NEIL WARNOCK admits he will not be sorry to see the back of 2020 – but the Middlesbrough manager is hoping to make 2021 a special year on Teesside.

Boro play their final game of what has proved to be an extremely traumatic year when they travel to Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday, in circumstances that no one could have foreseen when they kicked off 2020 with a win at Preston on New Year’s Day.

The coronavirus pandemic has transformed every aspect of everyday life, with its effects being highlighted close to home when Warnock contracted the illness himself this autumn.

Thankfully, the 72-year-old made a quick recovery, but his personal experiences reinforced the gravity of the situation the country still finds itself in as another new year approaches.

Football has continued through most of the pandemic, even if it is largely unrecognisable given the need for empty stadiums, and Warnock is hoping his improving Middlesbrough side can provide some much-needed cheer throughout the second half of the season.

“We are trying our hardest to give the supporters something to cheer about – and to try to make 2021 a year to remember,” said the Boro boss. “I must admit, I’ll be glad to see the back of 2020, but let’s hope we can put a smile back on people’s faces in 2021.

“We’re not going to be able to please everybody, and I’m sure I’ll be making a few bad decisions in the next few weeks, but hopefully we can make sure everyone associated with Middlesbrough has a good year.”

That ‘good year’ could yet witness a return to the top-flight, with Boro finding themselves in eighth position in the table as they prepare to head to Hillsborough, with a game in hand on all bar one of the teams currently above them.

Warnock has exceeded expectations dramatically since replacing Jonathan Woodgate, guiding the Teessiders to safety in the final stages of last season before overseeing a radical improvement in the current campaign despite extremely limited investment in the summer.

A couple of January additions are on the cards – Everton’s Yannick Bolasie remains a leading loan target – and having had a close perusal of the fixture list during Boro’s enforced Christmas break, Warnock is optimistic about his side’s promotion prospects in the next five months.

“I don’t think anybody really expected us to be where we are, and I’ve said that to the players,” he said. “But we’ve been going about our job nicely, even though no one has really been looking at us.

“I personally would have been disappointed if we’d not been in the top half, and I always said that come January, if we could be within four or five points off the play-offs, I’d be quite happy. I’ve always done fairly well in the second half of seasons, and I think we’ve got a decent run-in in comparison to the first half.

“So, I’m quite optimistic. I just want the fans to enjoy it, really. It’s been such a miserable time, with all these restrictions, that I’d just like the fans to enjoy their football. We’ve got a great club, with great owners and great fans, and we just want to go forward together.”

This time last year, Warnock was contemplating retirement after recently having left Cardiff City. A festive trip to Teesside 12 months ago perked his interest, and he was always going to say yes when Steve Gibson came calling in the summer. Now, with some help from his chairman during next month’s transfer window, he wants to complete the process of turning things around.

“I’m enjoying it,” he said. “When I first came up to see Steve last Christmas time, and I met Jonathan (Woodgate) as well, even then I felt as if we could get promotion. I know we were nowhere near, but I just felt we could get promotion last year. I always had good vibes about the place. I’ve always wanted to show Steve what my management style is about.

“It is good to get what we’ve got out of the players that are here. I’m not looking to sign players for millions and give them massive wages. I think Steve’s aware of that, and as long as we don’t go the other way and be too skinflint, we’ll be fine.”