MIDDLESBROUGH face a battle to hold on to George Friend with Premier League duo West Ham and West Brom pondering a formal approach for the in-form full-back in the final ten days of the transfer window.
Friend has been one of Boro's most consistent performers since moving to Teesside in a £100,000 switch from Doncaster Rovers last summer.
The 25-year-old has started 22 of the club's 28 league matches this term and is regarded as one of the most highly-rated defenders in the Championship.
His displays have alerted the attention of a number of Premier League scouts, and representatives from West Ham and West Brom were scheduled to attend Friday's 1-0 defeat at Leicester to watch him in action.
West Ham are in urgent need of a left-back as an injury to former Sunderland defender George McCartney means teenager Dan Potts is the only available player in that position.
Hammers boss Sam Allardyce is expected to step up his pursuit of defensive targets this week, and sources in London claim a formal inquiry to Middlesbrough officials is in the offing.
West Brom manager Steve Clarke is similarly interested in Friend, although the Baggies' limited transfer budget could restrict his ability to recruit reinforcements this month.
Tony Mowbray will be extremely reluctant to lose Friend as Andy Halliday, who has spent the vast majority of his career in midfield, is the only real alternative at left-back.
To make matters worse, Justin Hoyte, who has switched from right-back to the left-hand side in the past, sustained a recurrence of a hip injury at Leicester on Friday.
With the Teessiders still just three points off the automatic promotion places despite having lost all three of their league games since the turn of the year, Mowbray can ill afford to see his squad weakened.
However, the Boro boss has previously admitted that every player in his squad has his price and the club has lost a key performer in two of the last three January windows.
The full extent of Hoyte's latest injury setback should become clear within the next 24 hours, with the defender having limped off after only 22 minutes of Friday's defeat.
Scott McDonald will also be assessed later today after appearing to damage his ankle in the second half of the game at the King Power Stadium.
The Championship programme takes a break this weekend as Boro entertain League Two Aldershot in the fourth round of the FA Cup, meaning the club will finish January without a single league win in the month for the second year in succession.
With Hull and Crystal Palace both failing to win on Saturday, the Teessiders remain handily placed in fifth position, and while Mowbray was understandably disappointed with his side's failure to claim a point at Leicester, he feels some of the mounting doom and gloom is unjustified.
“I feel as if sometimes it's a bit harsh to be throwing questions about defeat after defeat at us because each game stands on its own two feet,” he said. “We're at the right end of the table and we're doing okay. Let's keep going and see where it takes us.”