ASIDE from a coach journey home that ended in the early hours of yesterday morning and a worrying injury to Marcus Browne that will be assessed today, Neil Warnock will consider Middlesbrough’s brief FA Cup escapade a success.

True, Boro lost, but this season is not one in which a cup run will bring any benefit. It is the manner of his side’s performance against an equally youthful Brentford which put a glint in Warnock’s eye afterwards.

A remarkable debut for 18-year-old Hayden Hackney in central midfield, an assured, robust display from another teenager in Nathan Wood and a first senior goal for Sam Folarin all gave clarity for the future even as the evening fog rolled in.

So, too, did the fluency of Boro’s play, consistently carving open a Brentford team that usually does that to the opposition.

The difference was in the detail. The Boro defence allowed Halil Dervisoglu to convert a Saman Ghoddos corner unchallenged for the opening goal, Hackney lost his man for the winner and Folarin incurred Warnock’s wrath for straying offside as Boro pressed for a late equaliser.

Brentford, on the other hand, saw out the tie with a defiance and a mentality that comes from adopting an alternative development plan for their youngsters.

The London club long since dispensed with its Under-23s side. In its place it has a B team whose fixture list includes playing against non-league first teams as well as European tours in Covid-free times.

Warnock, who is hoping Boro's Covid outbreak will have subsided by the time Birmingham visit the Riverside in the league this weekend, wants the Middlesbrough youngsters to do the same, although he recognises that has to wait until restrictions are eased.

Warnock said: “I was really pleased with all the young lads. Sam’s goal was a great moment for him, but then there were two absolute disgraces when he was offside.

“It’s criminal that for a wide player to be offside, absolutely criminal. Great for the goal, but then he blotted his copybook.

“Hayden looked nervous for the first five minutes but then he blossomed into the game. He will have learned from that and he must learn from their winning goal where he lost his man.

“But that’s the difference between Under-23s football and the first team. It’s why we’ve got to rid of the 23s and get back to a reserves team like the Central League when I was brought up.

“I watched Derby County (lose to Chorley) this afternoon. You can’t have 23s now, all pass, pass, pass. They don’t learn how to play the game.

“I don’t think the Under-23s have worked for years. I don’t see that there’s any progression. I think they get taught the wrong principles in football.

“I think they’ve got to go back to the reserves where the lads who aren’t playing in the first team are playing against them, so there’s not such a big difference.

“We had six or seven of the 23s on the bench. They’ve all done well. They’re all comfortable. It’s just that I’d like to see us play Blyth Spartans, our Under-23s, and get some toughness in them, but we can’t do anything at the moment with the Covid, can we?

“It’s causing havoc. We’ve just got to get through it and then we can start going around some of these grounds because that’s what the young lads need, playing against Darlington in night matches. It’s better than 23s.”

Browne left the Brentford Community Stadium on crutches after dislocating his kneecap while trying to shield the ball at the end of the first half.

Clearly in agony and requiring oxygen, he will be assessed today with Warnock hopeful that the midfielder will receive the positive news he deserves after struggling with a spate of injuries.

Browne was superb in a first half which Boro dominated. They would have led had it not been for Brentford keeper Luke Daniels whose series of stops included a flying, fingertip effort to turn over Chuba Akpom’s rasping drive.

The pace at which Boro attacked opened up space time and again with the recalled Patrick Roberts particularly adept at knowing when to run at defenders and when to slip in his team-mates.

It was his shot three minutes into the second half which was deflected into Folarin’s path for the equaliser.

Instead of capitalising on the momentum that goal brought, Boro were caught again when they allowed Ghoddos time to place a shot into the far corner. This time there was no retrieving the game.

Unmarked at the far post, Folarin was caught out when the ball bounced into his chest, while Akpom’s late glancing header flashed wide.

With promotion the main aim, Warnock was encouraged rather than concerned.

He added: “Apart from me putting the ball in the net, I don’t think we could have done any more tonight. We created that many chances.

“Since I’ve been here, goalscoring and creating chances has been a problem, but the lads are loving playing at the moment."