Neil Warnock had to look on the bright side following Middlesbrough’s 4-1 defeat to Brentford last Saturday.

With the side bolstered by newbies Yannick Bolasie and Neeskens Kebano, Boro started on the front foot offering a promising display but does their second half capitulation leave Warnock with bigger questions to be answered?

Boro can’t escape their recent run of form – it’s just one win out of six now and scoring just two goals.

It’s a far cry from how they started their season with that ten game unbeaten run following their initial defeat to Watford on the opening day.

After a positive haul in the January transfer window, there are several factors in play for Warnock to consider and give his side a fighting chance of play-off action in May.
With question marks over positions all over the pitch, where does Warnock start in trying to change Boro’s fortunes?

The Northern Echo: Dael Fry, success story of the season so farDael Fry, success story of the season so far

Defensively, Warnock has had to ring the changes throughout the season following Grant Hall’s injury against QPR in September.

This has produced Boro’s success story of the season so far in Dael Fry, whose assured presence at centre back was sorely missed in the recent defeats to Blackburn and Rotherham.

This is seconded by his unlikely partnership with Paddy McNair who deserves his plaudits too.

As Boro approach the run-in, their fitness is going to be crucial as they are likely to remain a staple in Warnock’s starting XI.

One option for Warnock could be to reprise the 3-5-1 formation that helped him to avoid defeat earlier this season, with Anfernee Dijksteel sat alongside Fry and McNair in a back three.

This opens up the opportunity for Darnell Fisher to keep his place and play as a wing back and reintroduce Marvin Johnson on the opposite side.

This could rule out Marc Bola though, who has been a revelation this season, developing into a confident and decisive footballer who has established his role as the left-back.

Boro need consistency as soon as possible and tinkering with the defence at this stage could be a no-go as Warnock looks to focus on scoring goals rather than conceding them.

The Northern Echo: Jonny Howson gives a good performanceJonny Howson gives a good performance

Marcus Tavernier’s recent injury woes have forced Warnock to be more robust in central midfield but his absence has left a distinct lack of attacking contribution from the current trio.

There’s no questioning Jonny Howson’s quality and his work rate usually lands him at the top end of Boro’s best performers each week.

Overall though, Boro have lacked mobility in this area and you would expect Warnock to include Tavernier, if fit, to provide the movement and the passing accuracy that can turn defence into attack.

This would be the dream for new boys Neeskens Kebano and Yannick Bolasie who need Tavernier’s delivery to improve Boro’s wide play and give the team options down the flanks.

The Northern Echo: Is Ashley Fletcher back in contention?Is Ashley Fletcher back in contention?

Warnock is, and should be, excited about what his reinforced squad can produce going forward but his biggest problem is still who leads the line up front.

Britt Assombalonga has his critics across Teesside - the frustration about his lack of goals is everpresent and there were more chances squandered at the weekend.

Chuba Akpom has followed in the same vein and been largely disappointing this season. The pair’s weekly rotation suggests that Warnock feels the same.

This could potentially put a match-fit Ashley Fletcher back in contention as Warnock’s first choice. The striker featured for Boro U23s in the week and will be looking to embed himself with the new lads soon.

The lone striker role for Boro’s forwards seems like an impossible task, however, and there is cause for Assombalonga to link up with Fletcher to maximise Boro’s chances of finding the net.

The Northern Echo: New signing Yannick BolasieNew signing Yannick Bolasie

Let’s not forget Yannick Bolasie and Neeskens Kebano who were both thrown into the side on their debuts for Boro.

They are attacking options that Warnock has sought after and following Patrick Roberts’ departure to Derby County on Deadline Day, they offer an outlet that Boro haven’t really had and obviously need going forward.

The relationship, or lack thereof, between Roberts and Warnock highlights what Yannick Bolasie has to his advantage.

The familiarity between manager and winger should give each of them the confidence and trust that Warnock’s vision for the remainder of the season will pay off.

Kebano’s last minute move on Deadline Day could be the key to unlocking the success for Boro in the latter stages of the campaign.

Warnock’s wide options quickly became balanced and now look to be a threat to any side they will face in the final stages of this season.

The Northern Echo: Neil WarnockNeil Warnock

Boro currently sit in seventh and five points behind Bournemouth who are occupying that final play-off spot. 

With 18 games left to play and still a lot to get right for Warnock and his Boro team, finishing in the top six could be a tall order.

But, as his Championship records prove time and time again, if anyone can mount a charge at this stage in the season you would back Neil Warnock to do it.