NEIL WARNOCK has issued a hands-off warning with a difference ahead of Middlesbrough’s televised game with Birmingham City this lunchtime – by telling his players it is their duty to avoid making contact with each other if they are celebrating a goal.

The issue of players hugging as part of a goal celebration has become a hot topic this week, with the EFL joining forces with the Premier League to remind players they must avoid all unnecessary bodily contact in order to fall in line with the Government’s coronavirus guidelines.

A number of high-profile managers including Pep Guardiola and Frank Lampard have argued that it is unrealistic to expect players not to get caught up in the moment when they have scored, and have argued footballers should be afforded a greater degree of leeway.

Warnock accepts it will be difficult to shelve what has become a natural reaction, but with elite football being in the privileged position of being able to continue while much of the rest of British society shuts down, the Boro boss has laid down the law as he has reminded his players of their responsibilities.

“We’re very fortunate and honoured that the Government have agreed to this (football continuing), and we haven’t got to take any chances to knock it back,” said Warnock. “I’m hoping that the lads realise that, and I’ve emphasised it every day this week when we’ve trained.

“We couldn’t get in until Wednesday, but since then I’ve been emphasising it, and I’ll be emphasising it again today. I just hope they take it on board.”

Having received the latest guidance from the authorities, Warnock has instructed his players to come up with alternative goal celebrations that avoid bodily contact.

England captain Harry Kane set a positive example when he toned down his own goal celebration during Tottenham’s midweek draw with Fulham, and Warnock has put Marcus Tavernier in charge of Boro’s routines.

“We’ve had discussions,” said the Boro boss. “I think that’s all managers can do really – ask the players to come up with something that doesn’t involve hugging and stuff like that. It’s up to the lads to come up with something different now, and hope we can stick to it.

“We have to try. I don’t know if it’s possible for players not to celebrate – I haven’t got a clue, and I know I would want to celebrate if I scored. But we have to try to stick to the rules, and that has to be the responsibility of the lads on the pitch.

“Harry Kane did it properly the other night, and I was pleased with that. It’s up to us to try drumming it into them, and hope that they come up with something. I’ve given the job to Tavernier. It’s his job to sort out the goal celebrations in the next few weeks, so I can fine him if it’s not right.”

Boro have had their own coronavirus issues to deal with over the last two weeks, with Warnock having been forced to name a shadow side for last weekend’s FA Cup defeat at Brentford after a major Covid outbreak forced the closure of the club’s Rockliffe Park training ground.

The facility reopened fully on Wednesday, with the last of the players who have completed a forced period of isolation returning to full training yesterday.

Warnock accepts he will have to monitor them closely, but the early signs have been positive and aside from injured trio Grant Hall, Marcus Browne and Ashley Fletcher, he is hoping to be able to select from a full squad for today’s game against a Birmingham side managed by former Boro boss Aitor Karanka.

“Everyone’s doing alright,” he said. “They’re all back in training (yesterday), and we’ll have a look at what the situation is. We haven’t been able to do much anyway to be honest with the weather.

“We’ll have a look at how they are, but they’re a bright group. I think Duncan (Watmore) probably felt the worst, but I think overall, they’ve all come back really well.”

Middlesbrough (probable, 4-3-3): Bettinelli; Dijksteel, Fry, McNair, Bola; Saville, Morsy, Tavernier; Watmore, Akpom, Johnson.