'We need a bit of luck' says Middlesbrough boss but how does Neil Warnock navigate defensive crisis for crunch Peterborough United clash?
When the chips are down in football, the chips are down.
Middlesbrough manager Neil Warnock is no stranger to adverse circumstances throughout his four-decade-long career in management. When it comes to crises, Warnock has many a t-shirt.
But that doesn’t mean the injury headache facing the Boro boss this weekend is any less stressful.
Boro are set to be without a number of first team options for the visit of Peterborough and have little room for error as supporters continue to grow disgruntled over a lacklustre start to the Championship season.
Warnock has long-since documented the pile up of injuries at the Riverside and recently told national radio station talkSPORT his side just need ‘a bit of luck.’
But heading into Saturday’s game potentially without defenders Anfernee Dijksteel, Darnell Fisher, Grant Hall and Dael Fry through injury, and Lee Peltier through suspension, you can sympathise with Warnock’s predicament.
The next three fixtures may go a long way to determining the future of Warnock with Posh up first ahead of a home clash with another side in the relegation zone in Barnsley and a trip to struggling Cardiff City.
So just how does Warnock approach Saturday’s game?
Given the number of defensive absentees there may be another change in formation from the Boro boss who has fluctuated between three and four at the back a number of times already this season.
Paddy McNair’s return from international duty unscathed was a welcome boost with the Northern Irishman sure to be the first name on the team sheet in defence.
Sol Bamba will likely line-up alongside McNair should Fry miss out after being forced off late in the defeat to Hull City.
But after that, options are limited. Marc Bola will be fit for a role at fullback, or will he be utilised out of position as an emergency third centre back? Or does Warnock have to look at some of those players in the U23’s squad?
One player who could feature is 21-year-old Will Kokolo with the left back having been named among the substitutes at Hull before the international break.
But Kokolo’s inclusion could lead to more square pegs in round holes given it would move Bola out of position.
Beyond that, Warnock could potentially look at handing 20-year-old Daniel Dodds a debut - Dodds has featured in the EFL Trophy in the past and is one of the only natural right backs available in the 23’s squad without moving others out of position. Either way, Warnock was right when he said things ‘were bleak’ for his side.
And for as long as the defensive crisis continues Warnock must be left questioning the deals to allow players like Djed Spence and Hayden Coulson to head out on loan.
Things don’t get much easier for Warnock further up the field with Onel Hernandez set to miss out while the continuous fitness issues of Martin Payero and James Lea Siliki will be of concern.
And perhaps an even more pressing matter for Warnock and his side is finding the back of the net.
While his strikers are available, Boro have scored just 11 goals this season - only five teams have netted fewer.
It’s a big dilemma for Warnock who, despite all of his experience, knows how crucial the next week could be.