MIDDLESBROUGH will almost certainly have to include a number of untried youth players in their squad for Saturday’s FA Cup game at Brentford after a significant coronavirus outbreak forced the closure of the club’s Rockliffe Park training ground.

At this stage, Saturday’s third-round tie at Brentford’s Community Stadium remains on, with the latest guidance issued to clubs stating that matches should take place if a team has ‘14 fit and available players’.

However, a new batch of Covid tests took place today, with the results set to determine whether or not Boro are able to fulfil their fixture obligation. If the game gets the green light, Neil Warnock will almost certainly have to supplement the available members of his first-team squad with some youth-team players.

While the EFL is due to start introducing twice-weekly tests at all Football League clubs from next week, Boro decided to conduct their own testing of first-team players and staff on Monday. Those tests have produced a string of positive results, which resulted in the closure of Rockliffe Park and the cancellation of planned training sessions.

Warnock has not been able to work with his first-team players on the training pitches this week, and today’s additional round of mandatory testing will help ascertain the full extent of the outbreak.

Warnock has already contracted coronavirus himself, while Dael Fry also tested positive during pre-season. On both of those occasions, Boro were able to limit the virus’ spread. However, the concern with the latest outbreak is that it had already taken hold before it came to light.

A Middlesbrough statement said: “Our Emirates FA Cup preparations have been hit by positive tests for COVID-19 among first team players and staff this week.

“A round of testing was undertaken by the club of its own volition at the start of the week and a number of positive tests were returned.

“As a result, the training ground has been effectively closed since Monday and the first team have been unable to carry out any work on the Rockliffe pitches ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup trip to Brentford (6pm).

“Further mandatory tests took place on Thursday morning with the results expected ahead of the weekend. The club’s Under-23 squad also joined the first team squad and staff in undergoing tests ahead of the cup tie.

“In addition to a number of absentees following the testing procedure, Boro boss Neil Warnock is already without Jonny Howson, Ashley Fletcher, and Grant Hall, who are all sidelined with injury.”

There is clearly concern about the standard of the side Warnock will be able to name if Saturday’s game goes ahead. The Boro boss was planning to make a number of changes, but will be understandably reluctant to have to select what could effectively have to be an Under-23s team.