DOUGIE Freedman wants to make a deal with Wanderers’ fans – keep backing the team and he will lead them up the table.

On the eve of what many regard as the biggest game of his 15-month tenure, the Whites boss is under no illusion that what has been served up this season – particularly at the Reebok – has not been good enough.

He has been boosted by the return of key defender David Wheater, who goes straight into contention for a starting spot but remains short on striking options, with Jermaine Beckford ruled out for at least another week with a hamstring problem.

Last weekend’s defeat at Ipswich left Wanderers four points off the relegation zone. Furthermore, a run of just one win in nine league games has prompted a sizeable section of the club’s support to call for him to be sacked.

These are testing times indeed for the Scot, and with four out of his next five games to be spent under the watchful gaze of his own supporters, you sense this will be a definitive period in his own managerial career.

Winning back hearts and minds won’t happen overnight but Freedman believes it can start with three points this afternoon.

“I understand that there are people out there who will be judging me and the players on the table and our results,” he said.

“This time is a challenge for me. There’s no use me sitting here and harking back to last year when I was getting praised. This is where we’re at.

“We’ve got to face up to facts – we’ve got to get results.

“I’ve got to face the fact I have to pick the right team and have it perform to the best of its ability, get them organised and hungry to play, but I know I can do that.

“But what gives me hope is that we are performing and playing well.

“We have made one or two errors, missed chances that have come our way, but this is the time we collectively need to stand up and be counted.”

Quite what atmosphere will greet the manager and his players at the Reebok come 3pm has been the matter of much debate this week.

A frustrated fan-base is desperate for some sort of good news – but Freedman admits he cannot complain with the backing he has received so far from the terraces.

“I think the first couple of months were difficult with the fans during matches and I thought a couple had lost support for the team, but generally they have been very good,” he said.

“In fact, considering the situation we find ourselves in, not winning games, I think they have been excellent.

“What I asked the fans last year was to get behind the team throughout the match and then at the final whistle, if you don’t win, of course you’ll be frustrated.

“But if you’re a supporter of Bolton right now you’ve got to understand where the club is at present and why we need to stand together.

“There is a bigger picture – and it’s where we are trying to go, and how long it will take us to get there, but in the meantime you get behind your team through good and bad times.

“Ten years ago when we were flying high in the Premier League, none of these players were involved. These players are here in the Championship and trying to get us back up there.

“The fans can be a massive help to us, especially when we’re hanging in there. We need that support.”

One of the chief gripes aimed at Freedman over the last few weeks was his inability to land the full-back or striker that many feel is desperately needed in the transfer window.

But the Scot is confident that he will be given the funds to recruit when the emergency loan window reopens on Friday.

“People might be surprised that I didn’t bring players in to certain positions but I’ve never been someone who has panicked,” he said.

“We have got some decent players here and I think we’ve defended well – it has just been those one or two individual mistakes that have done for us.

“You end up overspending with panic buys because people put you in a corner. It ends up being a desperation call.

“I have got certain targets and I’m standing by them. And yes, I think it’s fair to say I’ll be given the chance to get them in.”