NEIL WARNOCK expects Middlesbrough to receive strong interest in Marcus Tavernier this summer – but the Boro boss is confident Steve Gibson will reject all offers for the 21-year-old midfielder.

Tavernier was named North-East Young Player of the Year in the North-East Football Writers’ Association’s annual awards earlier this week, capping a fine 12 months that have seen the youngster successfully establish himself as an integral part of Boro’s first team.

Last month, Boro fielded inquiries from at least two Premier League clubs over Tavernier, and Warnock fully expects there to be more top-flight interest when the transfer window reopens later this year.

However, even if that interest progresses into a formal bid, the Middlesbrough manager does not expect Gibson to look to cash in on one of the most exciting young talents in the whole of the Football League.

“You’re talking big money when you’re talking about a player like that,” said Warnock, ahead of this afternoon’s trip to Derby County. “But it’s daft isn’t it. We’re talking about times where money is very tight and difficult, but if somebody come in for Tavernier and said, ‘We’ll give you £10m and £5m in games to make £15m, I would ring Steve and he would say, 'I'm not selling him, Neil'’.

“He doesn’t want to sell any of his young lads or good players. I know one or two owners at clubs I’ve been at, if I told them they could get £10m for him, they’d have him in the car.”

This week’s North-East awards proved a double celebration for Middlesbrough, with Jonny Howson claiming the prestigious North-East Player of the Year honour.

Howson is Boro’s first winner of the trophy since David Wheater triumphed in 2008, and joins the likes of Stewart Downing, Gareth Southgate, Paul Merson, Juninho, Stephen Pears and Tony Mowbray on the roll call of the club’s previous Players of the Year.

“The lads gave them both a round of applause yesterday, and it’s fabulous for us,” said Warnock. “They’ve worked really hard. We’ve only been at it a short time really, but everyone has responded and everyone has contributed to these two lads having the year they’ve had.

“They both deserve it, they’ve both been outstanding. You don’t usually get the accolades at one club really, but I think in this particular case, I don’t see a better young player than Tav and I don’t see a better Player of the Year than Jonny.

“I think it’s been well deserved, and I feel quite proud that they’ve got these awards. It’s great for them, and it’s a great achievement for the club.”

Tavernier is easing his way back to full fitness after a knee injury, but like Dael Fry, who is struggling with his calf, he remains a major doubt for today’s trip to Pride Park.

Fry’s injury is especially frustrating as it is almost certainly a consequence of the two-week period when he was unable to train after Jarrad Branthwaite’s stray boot inflicted a serious eye injury during Boro’s home defeat to Blackburn.

“He missed training for a couple of weeks and then at Norwich, he felt something else in his leg,” said Warnock. “His vision is back to normal now, but he’s taking a bit longer to recover from the calf injury that’s niggling him, which is disappointing.

“The physios tell me that if he hadn’t missed the two weeks training because of his eye, he wouldn’t have picked that up. We’re all clever after the event aren’t we?”

While Fry is not expected to be involved this afternoon, which would almost certainly mean Anfernee Dijksteel continuing at centre-half, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing has been lined up to make his Boro debut from the substitutes’ bench.

The winger joined Boro as a free agent on deadline day, but his lack of match fitness meant he was not considered for last weekend’s defeat to Brentford. He has another week of training under his belt now though, and is set to feature in today’s matchday squad.

“We didn’t want to risk Mendez last week,” said Warnock. “And he’s a little bit behind the other two (Yannick Bolasie and Neeskens Kebano). But he’s had a good week this week in training. It’ll be interesting to see whether I can use Mendez for 20 minutes or half-an-hour if possible, just to give him a run.”

Middlesbrough (probable, 4-3-3): Bettinelli; Fisher, Dijksteel, McNair, Bola; Morsy, Howson, Saville; Watmore, Assombalonga, Bolasie.