A NUMBER of Middlesbrough’s first-team players will return to training with the squad today with manager Chris Wilder hopeful of an easier week at Rockliffe.

Boro have been dealing with the effects of a Covid outbreak that forced them to postpone their New Year's Day clash against Sheffield United with ten players testing positive.

Another four Covid cases have been confirmed but a number of players returned to the squad for their FA Cup win over Mansfield at the weekend. The likes of Isaiah Jones, Matt Crooks and Marcus Tavernier were all on the bench at Field Mill but Andraz Sporar, Neil Taylor, Duncan Watmore and Dael Fry weren’t involved.

As the squad return to league action this weekend against Reading, Boro will be looking to make inroads into the Championship play-offs after results elsewhere saw them drop out of the top six in early January.

The Boro boss said: “Yeah, I’ve just reminded all the players it has been a stop-start week and eight or nine days. Who can train, who can’t with medical advice and what have you. Who can do this many minutes and who can do that etc.

“I think we just look to get ourselves in on Monday morning because we’ve got a big week ahead of us. Of course, the FA Cup is good and getting through to the fourth round because we want to go deep in the competition.

“But what we have to look at now is a huge game coming up against Reading at the weekend and ultimately it would be nice to have a nice settled, calm week for the manager and coaching staff. We’ll prepare properly and hopefully put a side out there that will go well.

 “I think we’ll be in better shape by Monday and the longer the week goes on we will be.

“Thursday will be the huge day for us, so hopefully we have everyone back for then, which I think potentially we will do.

“They will all be at different stages in terms of their minutes and the medical department will monitor that and keep us right. But as I said before the game, I think it will be like this from now until the end of the season, not just for us but the end of the season.”

Elsewhere, Arsenal striker Folarin Balogun has tested positive for Covid ahead of his proposed move to Boro.

The 20-year-old’s move to Teesside looks certain to be delayed and he will effectively be ruled out of this weekend’s game against Reading.