Bolton midfielder Stuart Holden is a relieved man as he finally nears full fitness after 18 months on the sidelines.

Frustration

It has been a long road back for the United States international and he is determined not to rush the final stages of his rehabilitation after so much frustration.

He added: "I had the operation back in September last year, and since then I have been back and forth between here and the US focusing on my rehab and building my muscle back.

"It had to be done at the right pace; if you push it too fast, too soon, it pretty much erases the whole process.

"I have been doing some shooting and crossing, striking the ball - pretty much everything you would do in a game just not at the same intensity yet.

"It is important I build up to that and that will still take a little time yet. The first team play at such a high tempo and going into that before my knee is ready for it will just cause more delays.

"I'm fully focused on getting back on the pitch as long as the timing is right for both me and my little old knee.

"We have all been working hard for 17 months to get me back fit and we are almost there now."

Upheaval

In the time he has been out it has been a period of upheaval for the Trotters. Last season there was the disappointment of relegation and the devastation of Fabrice Muamba's cardiac arrest.

And earlier this month, manager Owen Coyle left the club to be replaced by Dougie Freedman.

Holden has found looking on from afar a difficult role but is encouraged by what he has seen of Freedman.

"It was so hard being here at times and not being able to be a part of it and help out," added Holden.

"You are a player at the football club but not able to be doing what you were brought in to do.

"The team has been through a tough period. From what I have seen this season, we have been unlucky not to get points where we should have and have had some mixed results.

"But we have a new manager in now and he is looking to bring some new life to the club.

"We have a great group of guys and a talented squad and I really think we have the capabilities to get promoted this season.

"He seems a confident guy and from what I have seen and heard about him, he has a great track record so we are lucky to have him here at Bolton Wanderers."