TONY MOWBRAY has described how Middlesbrough's promotion-chasing squad have united in support of Matthew Bates as he comes to terms with a cruciate ligament injury for the fifth time in his career.
After a scan on Wednesday confirmed he had suffered his latest knee woe during Tuesday's 1-1 draw at Ipswich Town, Bates has now travelled down to London where he will visit a specialist today.
It is hoped the specialist will deliver some positive news for the talented defender, who is well aware it can take anywhere between six to nine months to recover from significant damage to a cruciate ligament.
Mowbray was not willing to confirm the extent of the injury until the specialist has delivered his verdict, although what has become clear is that it is highly unlikely the defender will play again this season.
Bates - who has been performing well since recovering from his last cruciate problem sustained in the summer of 2009 - must now focus on plotting another comeback from injury.
And he has plenty support from those around him in the Middlesbrough dressing room, with Mowbray admitting his team-mates are sharing his pain.
"There is a great camaraderie in football," said Mowbray. "Football sees you competing with your pal to play in the team, you have a responsibility for your own career and your family. The better you become the better lifestyle you can create for your family and home life.
"It is a very competitive environment yet you go through disappointments together. Footballers go through a range of emotions every week with results.
"When something potentially happens like this then everyone rallies round really. There is a desperation from team-mates, hopefully it's not as bad as it might be for your pal. You want things to go well for your pal."
With the expectation that Bates will be sidelined for at least six months, he could be a free agent by the time he has made a full recovery.
Middlesbrough are not even thinking about the player's contract situation at this stage and are keen to hear promising news about the Stockton-born defender's problem from the specialist first.
Mowbray said: "If the worst comes to the worst Matthew has to show the same fortitude that he has shown before. You keep getting kicked and you have got to keep getting back up. Let's hope it is good news from the specialist.
"We had an injury on Wednesday with the reserves where David Atkinson dislocated his knee. A horrific injury. Yet the positive side of things is he will miss the next five weeks but then has the summer - a few months - to get himself ready to go again. We just have to hope Matthew will be in a similar situation with whatever injury he has."
Regardless of the length of time Bates is out, Mowbray must ensure the rest of the squad focuses on the task at hand: Promotion.
Middlesbrough head to Brighton, who occupy a place above the Teessiders in the Championship, tomorrow knowing they could slip out of the top six if they fail to end a run of five matches without a win.
"In life I think you find people sometimes who can perform better in adversity," said Mowbray. "Whether it is someone recovering from illness in a family or in a World War when someone is fighting a battle, on a football field in adversity you expect a team to rally round to give desire.
"Tuesday was a case in point. We had no centre-halves and we had Nicky Bailey playing like Bobby Moore at the back and Tony McMahon looking like he had never missed a minute's football. There were no defenders on the pitch. We were disappointed in the end that we didn't win the game. "We will miss Matthew Bates, you do need different assets, but you overcome adversity. We have been without big players for a while. The squad has to get on with it. Fringe players need to step forward."
Scott McDonald has made a timely return. The Australian international trained with the first team squad yesterday and will travel down to Brighton.
McDonald has not played since damaging knee ligaments in the draw at Leicester on February 1 and has made a quicker recovery that anyone at the club had been expecting.
Mowbray said: "Scott has been training with the development squad for the last week or so and he looks very sharp. Yet he has been out for a good few months. We will assess him and he is very close to playing a part. He's not far away."
McDonald's return is welcomed at a time when Marvin Emnes will be treated carefully. Emnes has been struggling with a knee problem and he could be among the substitutes at the Amex Stadium.