It’s been a season of promise for Boro’s young players so far, with our Academy playing a prominent part in the club’s run to the last 16 of the Carabao Cup.

And Under-23 coach Stephenson hopes for a similar success story as his side kick off another cup campaign in the Checkatrade Trophy tonight.

Only two Over-21 players with more than 40 senior career appearances can feature in the competition, which will see the club travel to Walsall tonight before trips to Port Vale next week and Burton Albion in November.

The likes of Dael Fry, Marcus Tavernier, Stephen Walker and Nathan Wood – all of whom have been eligible - are unavailable for the first two games having been selected at various levels for England’s youth teams, while Billal Brahimi also misses out having been called up by France’s Under-19s for the first time.

Stephenson hopes the youngsters who do feature can step up to the mark at the Banks’s Stadium this evening.

“The challenges are there for the young players to rise to,” he said.

“It’s up to them to do that now.

“Hopefully we can set them up right give them a good base to work from, but ultimately it’s how they compete and match up against senior players.

“It’s difficult, and they have to play with a footballing intelligence.

“If you’re playing against someone who is stronger than you, which by rights they should be, then you have to move the ball quicker and with more purpose.

“They will use their strengths and we have to as well.”

Last season’s Checkatrade competition saw Boro pitted against some of the most successful sides in the EFL, and Stephenson says that experience is invaluable.

“Last year was good, we were seconds from a draw against Accrington who ended up winning their league,” he said.

“We played Wigan Athletic who won theirs too, and Blackpool who were competitive for most of the season.

“Walsall have had a very good start and up until recently they were unbeaten.

“They can be direct and play some good football, especially in the opponents’ half.

“It’s going to be a proper test for the lads, and hopefully one we can stand up to. It should stand them in good stead.”

Ticket information for Boro’s Checkatrade Trophy games