Football, at heart, is a brutal and nasty business.
And so as luckless Boro defender Matthew Bates heads home to the North-East today to face his third cruciate knee operation in the space of 14, heart-breaking months, someone somewhere will be thinking one other thought: That while seven into five never went, six into five is more of a possibility…
Whether it has yet to cross the mind of City boss Glenn Roeder is another matter. He, you suspect, will for now be concerned more for the 21-year-old's mental and physical welfare as a once hugely-promising professional career now finds itself back in the hands of the surgeons.
To come back twice from serious cruciate knee ligament injuries – albeit one to each knee – is perfectly feasible in this day and age. Should Bates' scans have revealed a third such injury and another long and lonely road to full recovery stretches out before him.
“Matty sustained a knee injury in the game on Tuesday night,” City boss Glenn Roeder, told the club's official website today.
“And when we had it scanned early on Wednesday morning we were hoping that it would only be minor damage. Unfortunately, our worst fears were confirmed – that he had sustained more than minor damage and that he would need an operation.”
Bates first went down under a fairly innocuous-looking challenge with Frazier Campbell in the first-half of Tuesday night's 1-1 draw with Hull City. But after attention from City physio Neal Reynolds, the former England Youth international picked himself up and with his first touch, pinged a decent ball down the right-hand touchline for Lee Croft to chase.
Indeed, given that he reappeared aftre the interval that first injury stoppage looks as if it were wholly unrelated to events that transpired just before the hour-mark as Bates, with little or no contact from an opposition player, found his knee giving way as he looked to turn back inside in front of the Jarrold Stand.
Once again Reynolds rushed to his aid. This time the player was off for good as Jon Otsemobor returned to right-back – and, in fairness, played as if he had never been away.
Again there is the brutal nature of the football beast – that one young man's pain, will be another's gain as Roeder's hopes of spicing up the competition for that full-back berth go out of the window.
Again, however, Otsemobor will join with boss Roeder in wishing Bates all the very best as he heads back to the Riverside and another lengthy spell on the sidelines.
“It's the third time he's needed to have an operation in the last 18 months,” confirmed Roeder. “As you can imagine he was really enjoying his time here and showing what a good signing he was.”
“He has been assured that the operation will be a success and will make another comeback,” added the City chief. “He gets on tremendously well with the lads and we wish him not only a speedy recovery, but a full recovery as well.”
Bates, a long-time playing partner and pal of Boro discovery David Wheater, first underwent surgery 14 months ago while on loan at Ipswich Town. Having dumped Luke Chadwick into the advertising hoardings at Portman Road on the pair's debuts, a week later and Bates was out for the rest of the season when he ruptured his cruciates away at Barnsley.
A pre-season friendly game against Boro's North-East neighbours Darlington in the summer found the young defender 'earning' himself the matching pair. That, it appears, can be all too common. As the newly-rebuilt knee finds it's 'healthy' partner over-compensating and giving way under the strain; that all the rehab work that goes into strengthening the rebuilt knee, can leave Mother Nature's handiwork weaker by comparison.
That difference in strength then leads to events of last summer when, once again, Bates found his career on hold again for another six months.
Back to the brutal nature of the beast, but if his loan switch to Norfolk last month was, in part at least, designed to discover just whether or not the player was ready to retrun to the athletic rigours of the Premiership by testing those knees out in the rough and tumble world of the Championship, well, now Boro boss Gareth Southgate has his answer.
Back in Norfolk, with Mo Camara, Ched Evans and Ryan Bertrand already in the building, Roeder's four-strong loan swoop in the last 36-hours of the New Year transfer window left him with a regular conundrum of how to fit his seven loan players – the existing three plus Bates, Kieran Gibbs and the Reading pair of winger James Henry and centre-half Alex Pearce – into the five allowed in any 16-strong squad.
The answer was to leave two in the stands – Camara and Henry being the two on Tuesday night.
That situation now eases slightly in that only one will have to be surplus to Roeder's requirements. Bertrand's efforts in his natural position of left-back might point to Camara being the one to miss out again at the Walkers' Stadium; that said, Gibbs' difficult evening might find him rested for the Leicester game as Roeder reverts to the Camara-Bertrand show down the left and Henry finds his way onto the bench.
The other point to make would be that at least Roeder now has those alternatives at his disposal; being cruel, had one of his full-time employees suffered a similar heart-breaking fate to Bates, the Canary boss would have found himself in an even poorer position – unable to bolt one of his loan players into that hole thanks to that five-loan restriction.
One man's pain being another's gain has never rung quite so true as this afternoon.