WHEN it comes to his monitoring his players’ positioning, Neil Warnock has taken a somewhat unusual approach ahead of Middlesbrough’s next away game. The Boro boss hasn’t just told his squad where he wants to see them on the pitch – he has also demanded their presence at the breakfast table in the team hotel.

With a number of his key players having underperformed in last weekend’s defeat at Coventry City, Warnock conducted an investigation into the way in which his players prepared for their meeting with the Sky Blues.

While their preparation at Boro’s Rockliffe Park training ground had gone well, Warnock feels things began to unravel once his squad arrived at their hotel on the outskirts of Coventry. Four meal sessions were scheduled ahead of the game, but it has emerged that a number of players opted to skip two of them in order to remain in their room.

To Warnock’s frustration, three of the unnamed players who missed an evening snack offering and the following morning’s breakfast were the same three players that failed to perform to their usual standards as Boro lost 2-0.

“I thought three players let me down, and I knew there was something wrong with them,” explained Warnock, ahead of this afternoon’s home game with Blackpool. “I knew before the game that one of them wasn’t right.

"I know it sounds daft, but I could tell by looking into his eyes. Then within the first ten minutes of the game, I knew that the other two weren’t on their game either.

“We had to look at it, and we’ve been looking at their eating patterns when they’re away.

"We got to the hotel, and they eat at six o’clock at night, but then we have snacks for them at nine o’clock too. We’re down for breakfast the following morning, then we have a pre-match meal.

“I found out that some of the lads were having their meal, but then they weren’t coming down for a snack, then they didn’t want to get up for breakfast, so they missed that too.

"So, they hadn’t eaten between six o’clock and midday the next day.

“If you’re doing that as a footballer, you’re going to be a bit weak, so they’ve got to look at it a bit more professionally.

"To be fair, I think that’s what they’ve done now, since I found out all these little habits.

"They’re not bad players, so there’s got to be something that knocks them off a bit, and on Saturday at Coventry, I didn’t recognise three of them.”

Skipping breakfast might seem like a trivial thing, but with a footballer’s nutritional intake closely monitored ahead of a game, Warnock feels it could result in a drop-off of two or three per cent that could have a major impact on performance.

That is what he believed happened ahead of the Coventry game, and a new set of instructions have been issued. As a result, when the Boro squad arrive at their team hotel ahead of next weekend’s game at Reading, a match with a lunchtime kick-off, Warnock will be closely monitoring who does what.

“Certain players, I know in the dressing room before a game if they’re okay,” he added. “I knew (at Coventry) that one particular lad was nowhere near his game, so I had to look for a reason.

"When I came up with this reason, then I spoke to the other lads, and they were all the same.

“You tend not to want to get up in the morning for breakfast – ‘I’ll stop in bed because I’m going to have a lunch at 12’ or whatever.

"But you don’t realise that you need stuff in your body between six o’clock at night and 12 o’clock the next day.

"You can’t just overload it in one go and hope that works. You need to keep putting stuff in to make sure you’ve got that fitness.

“It’s something for everyone to buy into now, staff included. If we have to make them come down for breakfast, then that’s just something we’ll have to do.

"It should be voluntary really. But you’ve got to look at all sorts because it just wasn’t on.

"People can have bad games, but the players I’m talking about don’t have bad games like that.”