IF this is what happens when Neil Warnock decides to do things ‘his way’, Middlesbrough supporters will be more than happy for their manager to continue to put his foot down for the remainder of the season.

A night that felt like a pivotal moment in Warnock’s Riverside reign given his explosive pre-match comments about some of the members of his squad could hardly have gone any better as his side claimed a much-needed third victory of the campaign.

Duncan Watmore, recalled as part of Warnock’s post-Reading overhaul, opened the scoring with a fine chipped finish in the eighth minute before Paddy McNair, another firm favourite of the Boro boss, doubled the Teessiders’ lead shortly before the interval.

Warnock’s side had to withstand a fair amount of pressure as Sheffield United strived to get themselves back into the game in the second half, but with Sol Bamba, a summer signing that was definitely a choice of the manager rather than a pick that emanated from Boro’s data-driven recruitment team, outstanding on only his second league start of the season, the hosts held firm.

Warnock will feel his side’s victory more than justified his decision to jettison a couple of the players that were signed from overseas in the close season, and while he will not be writing anyone off at this stage, it is increasingly clear that the Boro boss knows who he feels he can trust and who he will be much more reluctant to thrust into the starting side. Watmore, McNair and Bamba, along with the likes of Dael Fry, Marc Bola, Jonny Howson and Marcus Tavernier, clearly fall into the former camp.

The fact that neither James Lea-Siliki nor Martin Payero were selected in the starting line-up was surely telling, and suggests that, for the moment at least, they very much fall into the latter category.

Warnock clearly feels that neither summer signing is ready to withstand the rigours of the Championship, which rather begs the question of why they were signed in the first place. Clearly, there were tensions when it came to Boro’s summer transfer policy, but for as long as he remains in position, it will be Warnock’s task to mould a functioning whole from the various constituent parts that make up his squad.

For now, he is putting his trust in his ‘tried-and-tested’ options, so for last night’s game at least, that meant a recall for both Bamba and Watmore, players who unquestionably fit the mould of a ‘Warnock-type’ performer much more readily than an unproven signing from overseas. In Watmore’s case in particular, the change in tack paid immediate dividends.

Having shone so brightly for much of last season, Watmore’s limited involvement in the current campaign has been somewhat surprising. Last night’s appearance was just the 27-year-old’s second league start since the opening day, but it took him just eight minutes to make an impact.

Bola, whose charging runs down the flank as a left wing-back were a key feature of Boro’s attacking play all evening, was the architect of the Teessiders’ opener, creating space on the left-hand side via a one-two with Matt Crooks before feeding the ball in to Watmore on the corner of the 18-yard box. The former Sunderland forward took one touch to control, and then clipped an excellent finish that arced beyond Sheffield United goalkeeper Robin Olsen before nestling in the far corner.

Watmore came close again moments later, glancing a header wide from Andraz Sporar’s cross, and with Tavernier also curling a shot just over the crossbar, there was an intensity to Boro’s approach from the word go that had been badly lacking in a number of their previous performances this season.

Tavernier went close again midway through the first half, skipping past a couple of defenders before firing a low strike just wide of the post, but while Boro were a threat at one end, they were also alarmingly open at the other.

Lee Peltier looked particularly vulnerable early on, with Sheffield United’s forwards repeatedly finding space down their left-hand side as they looked to claim an equaliser.

Billy Sharp spent most of the first half drifting towards the left flank, but while the veteran forward got himself into a number of promising positions, he repeatedly picked the wrong option, enabling Boro to clear.

He finally found the target midway through the first half, drilling in a near-post effort that Joe Lumley saved, and Sheffield United went even closer to claiming an equaliser just before the half-hour mark.

Iliman Ndiaye raced on to George Baldock’s floated pass on the right of the area, but while he skipped past Peltier to create a shooting position, his drive cannoned off the outside of the post. It was a crucial moment, as just eight minutes later, Boro were doubling their lead.

Sporar laid the ball off to Crooks in the area, and having been granted the right to play after his weekend red card against Reading was rescinded, the summer signing from Rotherham prodded back to McNair on the edge of the area.

The Northern Irishman has been playing in midfield rather than as part of a back five this season, and his shooting ability was evident as he clinically dispatched a low drive into the bottom left-hand corner. It was his first goal of the season, and snapped a scoreless run that had stretched back to March’s home win over Stoke.

With a two-goal lead to defend, Boro sat back somewhat in the second half, but while Sheffield United enjoyed plenty of possession after the break, they continued to fall short in the final third.

Boro’s defence deserved credit for that, with their three-man backline of Peltier, Bamba and Fry successfully repelling a series of opposition attacks. Bamba, who will be 37 in January, was a revelation, matching Sharp stride for stride and scampering back to clear from inside his six-yard box on a number of occasions.

The veteran made an especially important clearance on the hour mark, preventing Ben Osborn from rolling the ball home after Ndiaye had created a pocket of space in the penalty area, and with Sharp angling a header wide after another dangerous ball from Osborn, Boro found themselves having to stand firm.

They could have done with a third goal to completely settle things, and it almost arrived at the midway point of the second half. Watmore released Sporar into the left of the box, but the Slovenian’s fierce shot was beaten away by Olsen.

That was a decent save, but it was bettered by Joe Lumley at the other end with ten minutes left, with the Boro goalkeeper acrobatically clawing the ball over the crossbar after Blades substitute David McGoldrick let fly from 25 yards.

Bamba was called into action again with time running out, blocking another goal-bound effort from McGoldrick, but for all that Sheffield United exerted pressure in the final ten minutes, Boro never really looked like conceding. As Warnock himself would admit, there haven’t been too many matches this season when that has been the case. The hope now is that a corner has been turned.