Matt Crooks: Why Middlesbrough boss Neil Warnock wants to curb former Rotherham United man’s running

IT is highly unusual for Neil Warnock to tell one of his players to ease up on his work-rate when he is out on the pitch.

Matt Crooks of Middlesbrough during the Sky Bet Championship match between Middlesbrough and Queens Park Rangers. (Picture: Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/Getty Images)

But the Middlesbrough manager admits to making an honourable exception regarding workaholic attacking midfielder Matt Crooks and his words are meant as a compliment to the attributes of the former Rotherham United player.

The form of Crooks, who joined Boro in July, has been one of the redeeming features of a largely disappointing start to the season for the Teessiders.

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He has already found the net twice, in Boro’s opening two home games of the Championship season and has shown evidence of just why Warnock was so keen to raid one of his old clubs in Rotherham and bring the former Huddersfield Town academy player north.

Middlesbrough's Matt Crooks heads the ball during the Sky Bet Championship match at Riverside Stadium against Sheffield United (Picture: PA)

A physical presence and someone who chips in with his fair quota of goals and is strong in the air, Crooks is the sort of player who Warnock has utilised successfully throughout his career, but there is one aspect of his game that he wants to rein in.

Crooks’s outstanding endurance levels were legion at Rotherham, when he regularly won their cross-country runs within a squad who always pride themselves upon their fitness.

That stamina and hard running ability has also been very much in evidence in his time at Boro, yet Warnock provides a caveat.

He said: “To be fair, I don’t think I’ve ever had a player do 13 kilometres in a game and he does that regularly. It is unheard of.

“He actually does too much. What is unusual for me is that I am trying to tell him not to do as much as that.

“He could do less and be more penetrable by standing still at times and having a breather and being ready to go again in different positions.

“But he tries to help everybody out and he is a gem. He will be a favourite in years to come.”

Crooks’s assimilation into the Boro dressing room has also been instant and fully endorses the character reference given by Millers chief Paul Warne to Warnock.

He added: “When we were talking about money, I think Steve (Gibson) and Tony (Stewart) were not a loggerheads a little bit – but Tony obviously wanted to get a little bit more and Steve said ‘I’d had enough’ and this, that and the other!

“Warney said to me: ‘Gaffer, you will never have a better player than this lad, attitude wise.’ He said he’d never known anyone like that (athletically).”