Former Middlesbrough winger and ex-England international Stewart Downing has admitted he was surprised by Neil Warnock’s departure from the Riverside Stadium in early November, speaking on Sky Sports at the weekend.
The 73-year-old endured an inconsistent start to the 2021/22 campaign with Boro, winning just six of his opening 17 league games of the season before he was replaced by current boss Chris Wilder.
Following their 2-0 defeat to Hull City at the start of October in the final game before an international break, leaving the Teesside outfit in 15th place after winning just 12 points from their opening 11 games, his job was in grave danger with the board investing in 13 new players during the summer window.
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However, the veteran was given the opportunity to turn things around and that’s exactly what he did, winning three consecutive games, keeping clean sheets in all three and temporarily climbing into the play-off zone after their 2-0 away victory at strugglers Cardiff City.
Three winless games followed, but his departure came as something of a shock with the Daily Mail reporting he was in danger of losing his job regardless of the result his side picked up at West Bromwich Albion.
That report rang true, with Boro picking up an admirable draw at The Hawthorns but Warnock being dismissed with Wilder coming in as his successor the following day.
Pundit Downing revealed he was surprised by the timing of the 73-year-old’s departure, but believes the decision was made for the long term, saying on Sky Sports (quotes via Teesside Live): “He’s (Wilder) obviously got the response he wanted.
“The timing was maybe a bit of a surprise – well it certainly was for me when I heard Neil Warnock was leaving.
“They’ve obviously done it for a reason, for the long-term. They’re looking to build something and sign players for the coming years.
“I was surprised by the change, but they’re getting results so they’ll say it was a good change.”
The departure was surprising and perhaps a little harsh, but these are the types of decisions that can determine the long-term future of the club and with Wilder available and willing to take the job, they couldn’t say no to him.
Boro may have needed to implement a different style of player mid-season, something that isn’t ideal as they look to build towards the Premier League, but they had already played five at the back under Warnock at times earlier this season so that should have made the adaptation a little smoother.
Warnock deserves to bow out on management on a slightly better note and this is why it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him take on one more job, perhaps at the lower end of the Championship to get a team out of danger.
But for the Teesside club, they now have a brighter future, partly thanks to Wilder’s predecessor. Warnock built the foundations, now it’s time for the club’s current boss to take it forward, stamp his own authority on the squad and push for promotion.
The early signs are looking good, but consistency will be key in their quest to achieve a top-six finish this season and that has to be the aim after seeing so many players come in during the summer.