MIDDLESBROUGH’S preparations for the season have been rocked by the news that Matthew Bates has suffered the fourth serious knee injury of his career and now faces yet another lengthy lay-off.

Confirmation that Bates has suffered cruciate damage to his left knee was the worst possible news for the talented midfielder who, despite interest from West Ham and Wigan, committed his future to Boro last month by signing a three-year deal.

A scan yesterday revealed the damage sustained during Saturday’s 2-0 victory at Carlisle. It’s the same knee he injured while on loan at Darlington two years ago. The 22- year-old could be sidelined until next year.

The squad had been in bouyant mood after victory at Brunton Park secured a third consecutive win with Boro yet to concede a goal.

Despite Saturday’s game being an often bruising encounter, Bates’ injury appeared to be self-inflicted after his uncompromising challenge on Carlisle teenage midfielder Tom Taiwo left him sprawled on the turf.

It wasn’t immediately obvious that Bates had suffered a major problem but the sight of him limping straight down the tunnel suggested he knew he was in trouble.

His absence leaves a major gap in Gareth Southgate’s squad with Bates equally adept in central defence or midfield.

After Saturday’s game, the manager tried to remain upbeat but is was clear that he feared the worst.

“Everyone watching it would have seen him walk off without saying anything to anybody,” said Southgate, who admitted he’s in the market for a new striker after the club accepted a bid of around £3m for Mido – believed to be from Wigan.

“Obviously he’s had three serious knee injuries and that would be bound to reflect on his feelings at that moment.

He started that game extremely well in the middle of the park, he gives us something different.

“He’s shown this summer that he’s a very accomplished centre-back and he hit two or three crunching tackles in the first 20 minutes of the game.”

At Carlisle, Boro continued their free-scoring pre-season with strikes from Adam Johnson and a stunning solo run and finish from defender Rhys Williams.

Southgate fielded 19-yearold Jonathan Franks as his only recognised striker after Marvin Emnes and Jeremie Aliadiere were withdrawn, reporting minor injuries.

Boro have been linked with a move for Celtic’s towering target-man Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Southgate admitted he hoped to add some power to his forward line.

“Our strikers are very similar in terms of the attributes they have so we don’t have the right type of balance, but pace is always crucial as well.

We’ve seen that in the games so far,” said Southgate.

“Jonathan Franks might become part of this squad the way he’s played this pre-season.

His pace and attitude have really caught the eye.

“But we know we need quality and we either have the players we’ve got and have to get them fit and ready to play or ideally they’ll move on and we’ll get the players we want in.”

Asked if the likes of Tuncay will play if they are available, Southgate replied: “That depends on attitude and if we were sure that it was right for the team.

“If I feel that people aren’t ready to fight for the cause and fight for the shirt then I won’t involve them.”

CARLISLE (4-4-2): Pidgeley (Collin 72), Raven (Kane 46), Keogh (Livesey 46), Murphy, Harte (Horwood 46), Taylor (Rotherey 46), Taiwo, Thirlwell (Burns 70), Robson (Tinion 72), Anyinsah (Madine 52), Dobie (Bridge-Wilkinson 52) BORO (4-5-1): Jones (Coyne 60), McMahon, Taylor (Williams 72), Bates (Walker 24), Huth, Wheater (Hines 60), O’Neil, Arca(Hoyte 60) 60), Franks, Yeates (Porritt 72), A Johnson (Martin 84). Subs (not used): J Johnson, Smallwood