Middlesbrough Q&A: What has gone wrong since January, why was Britt Assombalonga recalled at Barnsley and what is Marvin Johnson's contract situation?
Middlesbrough have gone four games without a win following a 2-0 defeat at Barnsley - and there were plenty of talking points after the match.
We take a closer look at some of the big questions and talking points as Neil Warnock’s side prepare for Saturday’s game against QPR:
Why has the second half of the season fizzled out?
It’s a question Warnock will be asking himself.
Boro were just a point off the play-offs, behind sixth place Watford, after a 3-1 win at Wycombe on January 2, and then appeared to strengthen in January.
Since then, the Teessiders have lost 10 of their 19 league games and won just six. That sort of form spread across an entire season would normally only just keep a team up.
Perhaps it suggests that Boro overachieved in the first half of the campaign. The Teessiders always seemed to be just a few injuries away from trouble, while their squad clearly isn’t as strong as the likes of Norwich, Watford and Brentford.
Warnock has said his side are in a good position for next season, yet it’s likely they will need a new goalkeeper, at least another striker and some new wide players to seriously challenge for promotion.
Why did Britt Assombalonga return at Barnsley?
Warnock has already confirmed the striker, who will be out of contract, is set to leave this summer.
The forward hadn’t been in the matchday squad for the last four games but came off the bench in the closing stages at Oakwell.
Some may argue Warnock needs to look at players who will be around next season, yet the reality was his squad is extremely thin right now.
The Boro boss was only able to name six out of a possible nine substitutes at Barnsley due to injuries and players being involved in a FA Youth Cup game.
For that reason, Assombalonga was simply needed to make up the numbers – which is a shame considering he has performed well for Boro at times but never met the big expectations following his arrival in 2017.
This season has been hugely disappointing for Assombalonga and it’s unlikely he will receive another start before the end of the campaign.
It also seemed telling that five of Boro’s six substitutes will be out of contract this summer.
What’s the latest with Marvin Johnson’s contract?
Johnson’s situation is a slightly confusing one.
Despite his lack of game time in recent weeks, Warnock has repeatedly praised the winger’s attitude in training and impacts he’s made after coming off the bench.
Following that game at Wycombe at the start of January, the Boro boss said the club would be negotiating a new deal with Johnson – who will be out of contract this summer.
Warnock also said he thought there was a one-year option on the player’s current deal, yet when I asked him about it last week, he said that wasn’t the case.
It now seems like Johnson’s future will be discussed at the end of the campaign, along with Boro’s other out of contract players.
If the player does leave, he will need replacing.