IF Ashley Fletcher was thinking that he would be able to savour his new-found status as a Middlesbrough hero then he had another think coming.

The 25-year-old would be forgiven for being chuffed with himself after what must go down as his best week in Boro colours.

After all, he had followed up his match-winning penalty over Huddersfield last Tuesday night by putting Boro on the road to an even more significant victory against promotion rivals Reading.

And his heroics came in the wake of a four-month spell on the sidelines due to the hamstring injury he sustained against Bournemouth back in October.

But Boro manager Neil Warnock was quick to bring Fletcher back down to earth and warned him to get his long-term future sorted out sooner rather than later.

For, with his current deal up this summer, Fletcher’s refusal to sign on the dotted line has cast him as a so-called ‘contract rebel’.

But Warnock believes he would be unwise to snub Boro owner Steve Gibson’s offer and believes he should commit his long-term to the Riverside.

“I personally think that we’ve offered Fletch as good an offer as he’s going to get, wherever he goes,” Warnock told reporters via Zoom at the Madejski Stadium.

“The thing is I don't think he wants to leave but you get influenced by people behind you, by agents and all sorts of other things.

“There has been an offer on the table for him but I don't think he wants to accept it at the moment so it’s up to him.

“But I don't worry about that because if he does go then I’ll replace him with someone better.”

Warnock has seen it all in his long career so it was significant that the ultimatum was accompanied by a charm offensive aimed at Fletcher.

“I know what Fletch can do and at the moment for us he’s as good as anyone else in the league at what he does,” Warnock

“His contribution against Reading was immense – he scored a very good goal and he didn't give their centre-halves a moment’s peace.

“He deserves a lot of credit for his work-rate and his finish was great but what really pleased me was his eagerness to score.

“I’d challenged him to finish as top scorer despite being out for so long and I’d be more than delighted if he did top our scoring charts.

“But then again to be honest you don’t need to have many games to end up as Middlesbrough’s top scorer.”

That was said with a smile but earlier Warnock was frowning on the touchline as the Royals seized the initiative.

Fletcher watched on as chances came and went for Leeds-born Andy Rinomhota and 20-goal Lucas Joao before he showed them how it should be done on 22 minutes.

It was right out of the Warnock playbook as Paddy McNair picked out fellow centre-back Dael Fry with a perfectly-flighted free-kick and he nodded the ball across goal where Fletcher hammered home.

Having taken the lead, Boro slowed proceedings right down and Marcus Bettinelli’s time-wasting rattled the hosts.

They lost their way and lost their heads when Boro pressed again seven minutes later and that effectively sealed the destination of all three points.

The home defence was at sixes and sevens and the busy Sam Morsy made the most of their inability to clear their lines with a determined run paving the way for Marc Bola to double the lead with a powerful rising shot from the edge of the box.

Such was Boro’s dominance that McNair was kicking himself for not extending the lead just before half-time when Rafael smothered his shot but it mattered not as Boro were on imperious form.

Warnock described the “complete performance” as the “best team display” since he replaced Jonathan Woodgate on Teesside last June and now a ninth promotion of his storied career is very much on the cards for Warnock.

The 72-year-old is certainly enjoying the ride, with Saturday's win having lifted Boro to within three points of the play-off places. “It’s days like this that keep me feeling young but then again I don't really feel my age,” Warnock added, with his side due to return to action with a home game against Bristol City tomorrow.

“I know when I look at the old wrinkles I might need a bit of Botox to help but other than that I feel young at heart.

“It helps that I’ve got a really good set of lads to work with. I’ve told them that at my age I don’t need to be here but I don't want to be here to be average.

“And I’ve told them I don’t want you to be average so I challenged them to lift themselves.

“I want them to have a good go at getting into the play-offs and be positive in what we do and we’re trying to be positive as well as being well organised.

“We’ve got great fans, great facilities and a great owner – we couldn't wish for much more. At my age, you’ve got to enjoy the moment. That’s what I’m doing and long may it continue.”