IT will be a case of ‘the kids are alright’ when Middlesbrough face Brentford in the third round of the FA Cup this evening – in more ways than one.

With around a dozen senior players unavailable because of the coronavirus outbreak that forced the closure of Boro’s Rockliffe Park training ground at the start of this week, around half of the players named in the squad for tonight’s game will be from the Under-23s set-up.

While Boro’s senior group has been decimated by Covid, the Under-23s did not record a single positive test when they were tested on Thursday.

Their wellbeing means the Teessiders have not had to request a postponement, but Neil Warnock is adamant they will not be travelling to Brentford’s Community Stadium just to make up the numbers. The Boro boss will be fast-tracking some of the club’s youngsters sooner than envisaged, but he is adamant they are up to task.

“I certainly don’t want to be throwing the tie away,” said Warnock. “I think 50 per cent of the squad will end up being from the Under-23s, but that will be supplemented by the first-team lads.

“It’s a good learning experience for them. The Under-23s were tested this week, and there wasn’t one positive, which is something I’m really pleased about because sometimes you think the young lads will be out with their mates or whatever.

“There’ll be 50 per cent travelling down with the first team, and I’m sure when they see the brand-new stadium, they’ll all want to play and be involved. We’ve got some really good kids – the best kids I’ve ever seen since I’ve been a manager – and it’s nice to give them a lift. If those lads get time on the field against Brentford, they’ll be buzzing afterwards.”

Nevertheless, it has been an extremely difficult week, with the first inkling of what was to come emerging last weekend when a couple of players started displaying worrying symptoms.

The entire squad was tested on Monday, a decision that was taken at Boro’s discretion rather than that of the EFL, and a series of positive results emerged. At that stage, tonight’s game hung in the balance, but with the decision to immediately shut down the training ground having limited the threat of further spread, a series of further tests on Thursday all came back negative.

“We had to look ahead,” said Warnock. “It was a joint decision from (chief executive) Neil Bausor and myself. We weren’t supposed to test until the Thursday, but this virus was going everywhere, everyone was catching it, so we felt it was appropriate to get them tested first thing on the Monday morning.

“Over the weekend, one or two lads hadn’t been feeling well, so we managed to isolate them straight away, and I’m glad we did that. If we hadn’t moved so early, we’d have been doing all that now.

“We won’t be in the training ground until Wednesday. We’ll be testing again on Monday, but we’ll be doing like we did last Monday – driving in, having the test, then driving away. We won’t be at the training ground properly until Wednesday at the earliest.”

Warnock was offered the chance to stay away from tonight’s game, but having already contracted Covid himself, the 72-year-old feels it is important he attends.

“I was told I didn’t have to go, but I feel it’s important I go, especially when I’ve had it,” he said. “I’d rather Ronnie (Jepson) not go down, and then we don’t have to risk all the staff. We’ll be taking a skeleton staff of about five. Yes, I could have done without the game. But it’s a great opportunity for someone like Nathan Wood to come into the team and show us what he can do."