SAM Ricketts admits his fitness levels were not high enough to earn him a regular place in Wanderers starting 11 in the early weeks of the season.

The versatile Wales international found himself behind Stephen Warnock and Marcos Alonso in the queue for the left-back slot at one point – but has since found favour under Dougie Freedman on the right side of defence in place of Tyrone Mears.

Ricketts undertook extra training to get in top shape but said the injury problems he experienced over the last couple of months were not linked to the ruptured Achilles that kept him out for nearly a year.

“I wasn’t really fit at the start of the season,” he said. “I was trying to play through it because I never pull myself out of anything. I went away with Wales and it flared up so I thought this was the time to get fit.

“I spoke to the people that mattered and even though I was still on the bench I was doing extra work every day to get back to a decent shape.

“I am much fitter and now it’s just a question of games. Playing full-back is a big demand on your body. Playing centre half at Middlesbrough was a good way to ease back in.

“I felt I couldn’t push myself 100 per cent in pre season which is what you need to do as a defender.”

Ricketts is famed for being able to play in any of the defensive positions but admits the switch to right-back has not been without its problems this time around.

“I have not played there for so long,” he said. “The last time I started at right-back was when I snapped my Achilles at Wigan. “And I put that down to my crossing being a little wayward at the moment. I will be trying to improve that in the next few weeks.”

Wanderers’ new-found resolve was summed up by a heroic block by Ricketts in front of goal in the closing moments of the game against Leicester, as David Nugent blasted a shot towards goal.

And the defensive mindset that has been introduced by Dougie Freedman since his arrival has been well received within the dressing room, Ricketts claimed ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Blackpool.

“The gaffer has come in and set up a shape to defend,” he said. “We defend from the front. I know it is an old cliché but that’s how we approach it and everyone knows their jobs.

“I know what every other player on the pitch should be doing just like they know what I should be doing. If I am not doing my job they will tell me and if they are not doing their job, I can tell them.

“There are no grey areas. We need to use our experience, not only to defend as a back four but also organise in front of us. Hopefully, the midfield can organise the forwards and it is easier for everyone.”