DAVID Wheater claims the short time he spent at Darlington last season was the making of him'.

Wheater spent the back end of last season with Quakers in League Two and despite a run of poor results, the centre-back's 15 performances made the Boro coaching staff take notice.

It is a similar path to that taken by Middlesbrough legend Gary Pallister, who enjoyed a successful seven-game loan stint with Darlington before returning and making a name for himself.

Stewart Downing has labelled the defender Pally' in recent months, while assistant manager Colin Cooper has also likened Wheater to former Ayresome Park captain Tony Mowbray.

The comparisons have been noted in the Wheater household and he is well aware of the importance of the time he spent at the Darlington Arena under manager Dave Penney.

Wheater said: "I did not see much of Pallister. A few have compared me with him and going on loan was exactly what I needed.

Darlington was ideal. It meant I could stay at home.

"It was the best loan I could have had. I had 15 games in three months and I felt more confident on the ball when I returned.

"Gareth Southgate said to me when I came back that I looked more confident in just walking around the place. I feared I might have to leave this club before I went to Darlington, but I suppose going out on loan was expected as a young lad.

"I was at Doncaster with Dave Penney so I knew it was a good chance for me and I knew he was a good manager. It was brilliant and it has helped me to progress."

Now Wheater, having been given his opportunity at the start of the season because of injuries, has established himself in the first team.

Such has been his good form that it is uncertain who will play centre-back at Bolton tomorrow, with Emanuel Pogatetz and Robert Huth both nearing comebacks from injury.

Wheater wants to continue at the heart of the defence and help ease the pressure which is growing on Southgate's shoulders after claiming two points from 21.

"He will be under pressure if he is not winning games," said the Redcar-born defender. "Hopefully we can get a few wins for him. We know he is a good young manager and he is only in his second season. It's not fair to criticise him.

"He is a calm fella and we have a fantastic chairman, Steve Gibson, so I don't think he will put him under extra pressure. It's not what we need at this stage.

"The confidence is there, we are playing well in training and hopefully it will come together.

"We are happy with how we are playing. The defence has had meetings, we are playing well. If we can concentrate for 90 minutes then that is half the battle."

Wheater has been named in the Engl a n d Under-21s squad for n e x t w e e k ' s g a m e s w i t h Bulgaria and Port u g a l , along with Lee Cattermole, Andrew Taylor and Adam Johnson.

"It's been a fantastic season for me and I was not even third or fourth choice in my first friendly,"

said Wheater.

"Playing for your country is what you want and one day stepping up in the way Stewart Downing and Jonathan Woodgate have is what I want."