Facing the Hammers will be Hoyte's decision

The Northern Echo: Affected: Hoyte Affected: Hoyte

TONY MOWBRAY will allow Justin Hoyte decide whether he is in the right frame of mind to play for Middlesbrough tonight as his best friend in football continues to fight for his life.

Hoyte was on the Boro team coach travelling back from a defeat at Birmingham City on Saturday night watching Bolton's FA Cup quarter-final with Tottenham when it had to be abandoned.

Like everyone else on the bus that night, the Middlesbrough defender was distressed by the events at White Hart Lane, where Fabrice Muamba collapsed after suffering heart failure.

Mowbray has since realised the extent of the pair's friendship and has given Hoyte, who described his affection for the player on Twitter over the weekend, time to reflect.

The manager also had a discussion with the right-back yesterday to see how he was feeling before he travelled with the squad to London ahead of tonight's Championship date with West Ham United.

In times like this, Mowbray thinks there are more important things to worry about than football.

He said: "I have every respect for Justin. He is a very good professional and I will gauge his frame of mind and what he is thinking. I left him alone at the weekend to deal with it. It will be down to the boy really. He trained with us on Monday.

"Joe Bennett and Jason Steele probably know Fabrice as well from the Under-21s. Football is a big family. You do play against each other. The players, the managers, tend to go and have a drink together after a match, so it has hit us all. As you could see in the stadium that night, you could feel the supporters of Tottenham were respectful of the situation. Everyone is conscious of that."

Mowbray described how everyone on the team coach on Saturday night were left almost in silence, watching events unfold.

Muamba remains in intensive care after medical staff took two hours to get the 23-year-old's heart beating on its own following his collapse on the field of play and messages of support have flowed ever since.

"It was on live feed on our TV on the team coach. We all sat and waited for news basically. It was so shocking," said Mowbray.

"Have we seen something like that on such a stage? Have we seen it in front of 30,000 or whatever, in front of the TV cameras, live? However millions were watching at home. It was awful."

Mowbray has been trying to get Hoyte and the rest of the his Boro squad to focus on tonight's trip to Upton Park, getting them back on the training ground yesterday morning.

Boro slipped ten points shy of the automatic promotion places after losing at Birmingham, a second defeat in a row that has left them with just a point's grace to seventh place.

Mowbray, who fears Rhys Williams will miss the rest of the season with ankle ligament damage, is trying not to be too concerned with ten matches remaining.

"I don't see any reason why it will slip away," he said. "When you break down the whole season, if you colour code it as I do, then there are red games where we have lost but there are plenty of yellow games and green games. Probably too many yellows, draws.

"Yet when you look at that season long map, there's a lot of positivity so we have to keep going and believing. If we do finish in the play-offs then you have to go into them full of positivity.

"We have raised the expectation of the support base this season, but the reality is that why should we - having lost a dozen players last summer - get away from being a team struggling to be in the top six this season? I think we are doing fine and the players can find the results to make sure that we finish strongly and make sure it happens."

Mowbray is still working on bringing in a new face or two before Thursday's deadline for emergency loans in the Football League.

He is expecting to lose out to Blackpool for Jonjo Shelvey, who prefers to stay in the Liverpool area. He is not, though, overly-confident of bringing anyone in.

Mowbray, whose squad have a few fresh knocks from the weekend, said: "You only want the loans you want. It is important they fit in to our club.

"The loans we have asked about have not come to fruition for whatever reason. The clubs don't feel like they can let players out. We will ask a few more questions in the next few days but we will only bring in players who we feel can impact on our run-in. Hopefully we will finish the season strong."

Boro:

Steele; McMahon Hines Bates Bennett; Hammill Bailey Thomson Arca; Jutkiewicz Emnes

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