Exclusive: Ashley Fletcher opens up on Neil Warnock's impact, Jonathan Woodgate's departure and Middlesbrough's encouraging pre-season

EXCLUSIVE: Middlesbrough striker Ashley Fletcher discusses Neil Warnock’s impact, Jonathan Woodgate’s departure, pre-season and more.
Ashley Fletcher finished as Middlesbrough's top scorer with 13 goals last season.Ashley Fletcher finished as Middlesbrough's top scorer with 13 goals last season.
Ashley Fletcher finished as Middlesbrough's top scorer with 13 goals last season.

Middlesbrough’s lack of signings this summer may be concerning for many supporters – yet manager Neil Warnock has built a sense of unity and belief over the last few weeks.

That is the view of striker Ashley Fletcher, who says spirits are high on Teesside ahead of Friday’s Carabao Cup meeting against League One outfit Shrewsbury Town.

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Warnock, who was appointed at the Riverside in June, hasn’t had much time to work with his players since the club’s last competitive match against Sheffield Wednesday just over six weeks ago.

Fletcher scored in Neil Warnock's first game as Middlesbrough boss away at Stoke.Fletcher scored in Neil Warnock's first game as Middlesbrough boss away at Stoke.
Fletcher scored in Neil Warnock's first game as Middlesbrough boss away at Stoke.

Yet the Boro boss did manage to take his side to Cornwall last week, where Warnock, along with newly-appointed coaches Ronnie Jepson, Kevin Blackwell and Ian Bennett, helped bolster camaraderie within the group.

“I think he’s just brought us all together,” Fletcher tells the Mail when asked what differences Warnock has made at Boro. “The football side of it takes care of itself but it’s having that team spirit

“We went down to Cornwall and had a couple of games but the majority of it was more team spirit based stuff, we went round his house with the barbeque and things like that, meeting his family.

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“We all felt like we were integrated together, we met his wife and son as well so it was a really good trip and we got a lot out of it in difficult circumstances.

Fletcher has a good relationship with fellow striker Britt Assombalonga.Fletcher has a good relationship with fellow striker Britt Assombalonga.
Fletcher has a good relationship with fellow striker Britt Assombalonga.

"We’ve done quite a few things, we went go-karting which was good, just small things like that are not really things you need to do but they help if all the lads are together.

“I think what him, Ronnie, Kevin Blackwell and the goalkeeping coach Benno have done is come in and united us so we’re looking forward to the season starting."

Warnock’s pre-season barbeque is a traditional feature of his pre-season trips, so just how was the anticipated event.

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“It was nice to be fair,” replies Fletcher. “He made this dessert which I’ve never had before which was like bananas and clotted cream and some liquor-based thing. I was pleasantly surprised it was really nice.”

Despite the impact Warnock has made, Fletcher says there was a big element of guilt when Jonathan Woodgate was sacked as Boro’s head coach in June.

The striker enjoyed his best season as a professional last term, finishing as the club’s top scorer with 13 goals in all competitions, and credits his former boss for that.

“We had to take responsibility,” says Fletcher when asked about Woodgate’s departure. “It obviously wasn’t just Jonathan’s fault it was ours, we hadn’t performed well enough and it showed when we were near the bottom of the league.

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“We had to look at ourselves and ultimately try to get ourselves out of the position we were in.

“I enjoyed my time under Jonathan, learnt a lot and I’m sure a lot of other players did, and he will hopefully go on to get another good job.”

Warnock’s appointment at the Riverside was announced at the same time as Woodgate’s dismissal, with the new boss taking his first training session on the same day.

And Fletcher, who scored in Warnock’s opening Boro game at Stoke, says the Yorkshireman immediately had a conversation with him and fellow striker Britt Assombalonga.

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"I think everyone has seen all the videos of him and stuff like that,” says Fletcher when asked about his first impressions of Warnock.

"He looks like someone who gets the best out of players, someone who is very honest and expects a lot from his players.

"I was really looking forward to working with him, everyone knows his record and it was good he came in and got us away from trouble.

"He pulled me and Britt aside and said you’re good players and we just need to get that confidence back into the side and we know you can score goals.

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"That’s what he did, played to our strengths, played us both together and from the games towards the end of the season we both scored important goals that obviously helped us stay up.

"He just gave us that freedom and confidence that we’ll be playing the games and to get us away from the scenario we were in.

Fletcher has often spoken about his good relationship with Assombalonga, yet injuries for the latter disrupted their partnership last season.

The duo linked up well under Warnock a couple of months ago, though, and will be hoping for more improvements to address Boro’s goalscoring woes.

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"The way we have been playing in pre-season that’s the way it looks,” says Fletcher when asked if Warnock wants to play with a front two this term.

“There will obviously be different times in the season when I’m sure he’ll have to rotate.

“I know there is probably going to be more players coming in which is important, we need that competition for places and I’m sure the club will be looking to do that.

“In terms of going forward it looks like me and Britt will carry on performing with each other and as I’ve said Britt is probably the main person I’ve enjoyed playing with in my career.

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“We get on really well and have a great friendship off the pitch but ultimately on the pitch we know each others’ games inside out and benefit when we play with each other.”

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