MIDDLESBROUGH'S youngsters proved they could handle the pressures of the Premiership at Old Trafford this month, but boss Steve McClaren is ready to set them a tougher test by dropping them to the bench for this afternoon's trip to Blackburn.

Teenage duo James Morrison and Tony McMahon made their senior debuts in the 1-1 draw with Manchester United, while 20-year-old goalscorer Stewart Downing maintained his impressive start to the campaign.

The trio were given their chance because of injuries to a host of Boro first-teamers but, with the likes of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Mark Viduka, Ray Parlour and Franck Queudrue back in contention today, none are likely to hold onto their place in the side.

That will come as a significant blow given their instant impact a fortnight ago, but McClaren insists they must learn to take the rough with the smooth if they want to succeed at the highest level.

"Handling being left out of the team is one of the biggest challenges of them all," said the Boro boss, who has spent the last week on international duty with England head coach Sven Goran Eriksson.

"It's always been a criticism of young players coming through the system that they get a taste of it very early, but then can't really handle it when circumstances change.

"Through circumstances, it might be a while until they get that chance again - it's how they handle that that determines whether or not they come through to be real players.

"From my experience, too many youngsters don't deal with that change very well.

"They get frustrated and don't show the patience and the willingness that you need.

"The one thing we'll be working on with our youngsters is making sure that we involve them all the time.

"They're always training with the first team now and they know that, with 20 games in 60 days, they'll get another opportunity very soon."

The first of those 20 games comes at Ewood Park, with Boro looking to earn only their second away win of the season.

Viduka and Hasselbaink are fit to resume up front, while Parlour will slot back into the heart of midfield alongside the tough-tackling George Boateng.

With Ugo Ehiogu also fully recovered from his calf problem, McClaren's side will have a far more experienced look than the hastily assembled unit that performed so well in both Ostrava and Manchester recently.

"You need your best players and your senior players, and we've missed them in the last few games," said McClaren.

"Their return gives me a bit of a dilemma, but it's a great dilemma to have.

"We've got three games in the space of a week and it's important that every member of the squad plays their part.

"You always want your senior players available, but you can't keep playing them all the time.

"It's impossible to keep on doing that, so the youngsters know they're going to get a chance."

Goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer is one of Boro's most important senior players, but the Aussie international's Riverside future has come under renewed scrutiny this week.

Schwarzer is out of contract at the end of the season and, with Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson continuing to monitor his situation closely, his contract talks are becoming more and more crucial.

"It'll take however long it takes, but we'd like to do it as quickly as possible," admitted McClaren.

"It's getting to the stage now where both sides are starting to get a little bit frustrated with it. It needs to be sorted fairly soon.

"Negotiations have been ongoing since the end of last season. They've stalled at times, but we've got back round the table and we'll be looking to talk to Mark again.

"There's definitely a willingness on our side to keep Mark here and I think it's in his best interests to stay at Middlesbrough because he can see what we're trying to do.

"We've got European football and everything he wants in his career is here.

"We just hope we can sort something out that satisfies both parties. "

Last weekend's Battle of Britain brought England number two McClaren head to head with Wales number one Mark Hughes.

The duo will lock horns again this afternoon but, with Hughes having stood down as Wales boss in order to concentrate on his new managerial role at Blackburn, his opposite number at Middlesbrough is confident he has done the right thing.

"I know I would find it difficult to manage two sides," said McClaren.

"I have the advantage that, while I manage Middlesbrough, I coach with England and leave Sven to manage.

"I think Mark will love club management.

"He's done a great job for Wales and I'm sure he'll do an equally good job for Blackburn."