DAVID Wheater is back in the first team reckoning – and eager to prove he can be top dog again!

You would be hard pressed to find someone who isn’t delighted to see the big defender back in Dougie Freedman’s thoughts for tomorrow’s trip to Nottingham Forest after nine months out with a serious knee injury.

It has been a long route back to fitness for the fans-favourite, but there are at least two canine residents of Bolton – Wheater’s black labradors Lucy and Ted – who might lose out now he is back on first-team duties. “I never realised what kind of hard work it would be to get myself fit,” he said. “I never want to injure myself like that again but it feels great to be back.

“I’m not the kind of person who gets upset about things. I knew it was going to be nine months out.

“I got my head round it. Did my time in the gym, went back to see my wife and my dogs every day.

“I’ve discovered a lot of new walks up the hills with the dogs, that has been nice because it’s lovely up there.

“But it’s good to get back to training properly again with the lads. Back to business now.”

Wheater has been missing since damaging his anterior cruciate ligament in the penultimate game of last season against West Brom.

His last taste of football at Championship level was with Middlesbrough, prior to his arrival at the Reebok, but the 25-year-old is hopeful he will not take long to get back up to speed.

“I’m not the quickest player in the world, so maybe people won’t notice,” he said. “Once you get back involved with games, you get back into the swing of it pretty quickly.

“I think the Championship is harder than the Premier League. “Up there it’s more about tactics, and I know you still have that in this division but it’s a bit more brutal, with a few more kicks going in. That should suit me down to the ground.”

Watching Wanderers since their fall from the top flight has been difficult for Wheater, who admits he is not a good spectator.

But the former Boro man is looking forward to getting the chance to push the Whites towards the play-offs.

“The lads know we need to start picking up results and that with the squad we have, we shouldn’t be where we are,” said Wheater.

“I don’t think it is too late to turn it round. With the game in hand it’s 10 points to the play-offs and that could be taken up in three or four games. “Things can change really quickly.”