Bates wants his pal to stay at Boro

Last updated : 06 January 2011 By Northern Echo

Stoke City are now believed to be the leading contenders to sign David Wheater this month, if the Potters agree to match Boro's valuation.

There is also plenty of other interest in the 23-year-old, but the centre-back would be keen to avoid rushing in to any deal that could see him back in the Championship next season.

Wolves are known to be among the contenders for his signature, while Sunderland's interest has cooled despite the fact that chief scout Ricky Sbragia has been to watch him on numerous occasions.

Newcastle are also showing tentative interest, but they are unlikely to want to pay the £2m asking price now, which is a similar stance taken by Everton, knowing he will be a free agent in the summer.

Bates accepts Wheater is likely to be moving on sooner rather than later, with manager Tony Mowbray hoping a deal can be struck this month to increase his transfer budget.

And whenever the Redcarborn defender does depart, his skipper admits he will be missed on Teesside.

I enjoy playing with David.

I hope he stays and everyone else in the dressing room hopes he does, said Bates.

It's a big decision for him and for the club.

The Bates-Wheater pairing at the heart of the Middlesbrough defence has grown in stature since Stephen Mc- Manus suffered serious ankle ligament during the victory over Crystal Palace on November 6.

The Palace visit was Mowbray's second match in charge and, while the team's form has been inconsistent since, their performances together have been largely impressive.

Bates, who graduated through the ranks with Wheater, said: It would be a shame to break the partnership up early. We compliment each other's game. He is the ugly centre-half, although I wouldn't say I was the pretty boy.

I think we know that my strengths and weaknesses compliment his strengths and weaknesses. It's a good partnership and one that I do hope is around for a bit longer yet.

Middlesbrough, who travel to League Two side Burton Albion in the FA Cup on Saturday, are still embroiled in a relegation fight despite going three matches undefeated.

And Bates said: The cup is not a distraction. It's a game we want to look to and to do well in. Norwich and Leeds were tough games for us.

Now the cup is a nice distraction to have because it could be a chance to put in a really good performance and boost confidence. We want to get a few goals and hopefully it is one for the strikers.

Tickets for Boro's trip to Burton Albion are selling well, but there is still time to book a seat at the Pirelli Stadium for Saturday's third round match. There are about 500 tickets remaining, priced £20 adults, £17 over-65 and £10 under-16 (seated); and £18 adults, £15 over-65 and £8 under-16 (standing).

Source: Northern Echo

Source: Northern Echo