DAVID Wheater reckons a “family feel” has returned now that Neil Lennon has got his feet under the table at Wanderers.

It is a little over two months since Dougie Freedman walked out of the doors at the Macron Stadium for the final time, with the mood around the club as unhappy as it had been in recent memory.

Players, staff, even the fans had cause to feel ostracised, such had been the sharp drop in morale after a miserable start to the season.

Yet things have changed immeasurably in the nine weeks which followed – and while the team continues to make steady progress in the Championship table, the atmosphere behind the scenes is at a polar opposite to the stormy days of August and September.

“There are smiles on people’s faces all the way through from the kit man to the groundsman, the players, it’s back to family feel we had when Owen Coyle was here,” Wheater told The Bolton News. “After he left it changed a bit.

“I’ve got nothing against Dougie, he had his own ways, but it’s a lot better now, the lads have taken to it and I think it was what we needed.

“In training the gaffer has been top drawer. Training is brilliant. When someone isn’t playing well he’ll tell you and I think that’s what this place has been missing a little bit. You need people to name names when they aren’t playing the best.”

Wheater finally found a place in Lennon’s team last weekend against Ipswich, brought into a back three to combat the aerial threat of Mick McCarthy’s high-flying Tractor Boys; no wonder his smile had returned.

Although never one to take himself too seriously, he admits a back injury picked up in the warm-up against Leeds United made it tough to stay positive in the final throes of Freedman’s reign.

But now fit again and hoping to keep his place against Millwall, the 27-year-old is looking forward to a busy Christmas.

“Footballers love this time of year,” he said. “You’d always rather be playing than training. I just hope we can stay on a good run going into the New Year.

“Obviously I’ve been out of things and it hasn’t been easy. I wanted to be playing but fair play to Matt Mills and Dorian Dervite, they’ve done well since the new gaffer came in.”

Wheater has special reason to want to face the Lions, with his mum’s family all local to the Elephant and Castle area.

“They’ll all be there,” he said. “I love playing at Millwall – I think it’s brilliant the way their fans are.

“It’s a tough one but it’s the kind of game we need to win if we’re going to get up the league.”

Wheater knows full well the red carpet will not be rolled out for Wanderers at The Den but says the well-documented hostile atmosphere is not a worry to him or Lennon’s squad.

“It can swallow people up, The Den, but I don’t think there are any players here who’ll let it get to them,” he said.

“Chungy normally gets a bit of stick but he’s a top drawer lad and he won’t be listening to them. He’ll probably go on a worldie and score a goal – that’s the best way if you’re getting it off the fans.

“It’s great for players to get a bit of banter, as long as you get the win as well.”

Seeing Chung-Yong in top form has also pleased Wheater, and the defender believes his team-mate can take his game to an even higher level now he has been joined by another play-maker in Eidur Gudjohnsen.

“The manager has basically said ‘get the ball to them because they’ll do the damage for us’ and I think they’ll get goals too,” he said.

“Chungy is on fire at the moment. It was hard for him when he got his injury, sometimes you don’t want to go in for tackles, I don’t know if that was what it was like for him.

“He’s playing brilliantly now, even in training where he’s got a bit more spark back, especially with Eidur here too. They are both different class.”