YOU can take the boy out of Middlesbrough, but you can’t take the Middlesbrough out of the boy…

Ex-Riverside stalwart David Wheater chuckles at the thought of getting some stick at the Stadium of Light tonight, as Wanderers look to pile more misery on a Sunderland side seemingly in freefall.

He may call Bolton home these days but the prospect of putting the Black Cats bottom of the Championship would do no harm to his reputation at his boyhood club either.

“I hope I get some stick from their fans,” he grinned. “I’ll score a winner as well. Make myself a Boro legend.”

Wheater is well on his way to that kind of status in Bolton, too. The 30-year-old has put in some sterling performances to help Wanderers stabilise their form since the international break and is now hoping to see someone else propping up the table.

“It isn’t nice seeing yourselves down there and it’s not where I think we belong,” he told The Bolton News. “It was tough at the start of the season but we’ve played well over the last few weeks, so I think it’s starting to turn.”

Expectation levels in Bolton are poles apart to those on Wearside, where Simon Grayson’s arrival in the summer was meant to usher in a change in the club’s fortunes after relegation from the Premier League.

Wheater admits the pressures of playing in the North West as opposed to his native North East are different too – even if he tries to ignore his own press.

“It tough up there,” he said. “There’s Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough – not a lot else to write about.

“There are so many teams round here you get an easier ride, I suppose. But if you play well they treat you well.

“I try not to take much notice whatever people are saying, good or bad. I was sat on the settee the other night after the QPR game and my missus said ‘do you want to hear what they’re saying about you?’ And I’m like ‘not really!’

“You can drive yourself mad with it. You know when you’ve played well or played bad.

“If you’ve had a bad game and read all the different opinions it can play on your mind all weekend and you end up going into training on Monday thinking about mistakes. You have got to take the rough with the smooth, haven’t you?”

Wheater is not the only North East native in Phil Parkinson’s squad - with Gary Madine (Gateshead), Ben Alnwick (Prudhoe), Andy Taylor (Hartlepool), Adam Armstrong and Sammy Ameobi (both Newcastle) also in the ranks.

Ameobi’s return to goal-scoring form has already been noted in Sunderland, where his family name is enough to send shivers down the spine. Ex-Wanderer Shola - Sammy’s older sibling - boasts seven Tyne-Wear derby goals and was once dubbed “The Mackem Slayer”.

“I think my only concern at the moment is whether we can get enough tickets for the lads’ families,” laughed the Wanderers boss. “The lads are bright and you can see they are really looking forward to this game. There might be an extra bit of spice to it.”

Sunderland’s struggles have taken Parkinson a little by surprise this season but he admits there had been warning signs for some time that all was not well on Wearside.

“You fancied them to be up there but there has been turmoil at the club, the owner is looking to sell the place,” he said. “A lot of managers have tried to get Sunderland up and going each year and just managed to stay up but finally they got caught out. They’ve struggled to turn it around this season.”

Parkinson inherited a club in a similar downward spiral when he walked through the doors of the Macron 508 days ago. And he believes the psychology of the squad has changed dramatically from the one he inherited, despite the problems faced since their return to the second tier.

“We had that losing mentality and it’s about trying to change it around,” he said. “Just where we are now I can see we are stronger, day in day out, they are demanding standards are high. That’s important because it can’t always come from me and Steve Parkin.

“I think I have got enough leaders in this group and enough experience to manage during a game and in the training sessions too, which is good.”