NEIL WARNOCK hopes his three main attacking signings in January are about to reignite Middlesbrough’s play-off hopes after taking time to build up their fitness.

Despite avoiding defeat to Cardiff City at the Riverside on Saturday when Paddy McNair grabbed a late equaliser, Boro actually lost further ground on sixth spot with 13 matches remaining.

The next two of those arrive in the form of away trips to Coventry City and Swansea City this week, and Warnock believes the fighting spirit shown against the Bluebirds to earn a point can boost them on their travels.

He also appreciates how important Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, Neeskens Kebano and Yannick Bolasie are to his side’s firepower, having recruited them all during the January transfer window.

All of those, however, have had their match fitness problems because of a lack of football prior to moves to Teesside from Cardiff, Fulham and Everton respectively.

With Bolasie close to returning from a hamstring injury sustained early on in his Middlesbrough stay, Mendez-Laing stronger after his first start in five months and Kebano impressive from the bench against Cardiff, Warnock knows how important their form will be in the run-in.

Warnock said: “Nathaniel will get sharper, he has been out a long time really. That’s the same with Kebano, he hasn’t had much football.

“Yannick hasn’t either, and if you had seen him on the training ground on Friday … they told me he wasn’t fit as well.

"I think I am in the wrong game me. They say he has to do longer sprints, longer runs. Hopefully, he will be available at some stage before next weekend I hope.”

With Ashley Fletcher sidelined for a few weeks at least, it is clear why Warnock needs the extra firepower and ability to unlock defences like Bolasie and Kebano provide.

After watching a bright first half come to nothing on Saturday, Warnock endured the sight of Cardiff scoring the opening goal when Will Vaulks’ long throw was flicked inside the far corner by Sean Morrison with eight minutes of the opening period remaining.

The Middlesbrough boss then witnessed a second-half display in which his side dominated the play without testing goalkeeper Dillon Phillips.

The introductions of substitutes Kebano and Chuba Akpom, as well as Marvin Johnson and Djed Spence, had the desired effect in the end because they added an extra edge in the final third.

Kebano’s clever play ended with him beating his man, overlapping and crossing from Spence’s pass into the area. Former Boro defender Aden Flint’s attempted clearance bounced off Marcus Tavernier and was headed goalwards by Akpom. McNair turned it in on 82 minutes.

The presence of Tavernier on the pitch again for the first time since January 24 was a welcome boost, but the reality is that Middlesbrough need more from matches if they are to climb back into the play-off zone.

The Teessiders have won just three of their last 11 matches and have failed to win six of their last seven home fixtures now ahead of these two upcoming away games.

Warnock, whose side are five points off Jonathan Woodgate's Bournemouth, who currently occupy sixth spot, said: “I want the players to enjoy it now, no one really gives us any chances with the teams picking points up again on Saturday above us.

“We have two away games this week and they are both winnable, I think every game is winnable, we just have to go back to basics and do what we’re good at.

“I thought Kebano was really sharp, you don't want to come up against him in the last ten minutes. Chuba won a couple of great headers. Marvin Johnson did well too.”

It was certainly not a game that was pleasing on the eye, with Warnock up against former Sunderland manager Mick McCarthy, who was unable to make it seven wins in a row under him. The resurgent Bluebirds are unbeaten in nine since he took over though.

Warnock said: “I told him when he got it, it’s a great job. You won’t have a set of lads like that again. He has tainted the tactics a bit more, why worry. They were mid-table and all of a sudden they have a chance of getting promoted.

“I remember him sticking up for me, he was doing Sky Sports, someone had a go at the way I played. Mick said, ‘There’s no divine right, you play the best way that suits your team or squad’.

“The results Mick has got since taking over are unbelievable. He is not daft, he knows they were fortunate to get a point in the end here.”

It was also an afternoon when Britt Assombalonga, who started and had one effort saved by goalkeeper Phillips, was stripped of the captaincy in favour of North-East Player of the Year Jonny Howson.

Warnock explained: “I think the time has come now for Jonny to take the reins. I had a chat with Britt and he understood and agreed in the circumstances and just to concentrate on his game really.”