Middlesbrough defender Emanuel Pogatetz staked his claim for Sunday's trip to Bolton after delivering on his promise to return from surgery ahead of schedule.
The 24-year-old Austria international played the full 90 minutes in last night's 2-1 reserve team defeat by Manchester United and was joined in the starting line-up by fellow long-term absentee Robert Huth.
Pogatetz had not been expected to be back in contention for the senior side until after the forthcoming international break having had operations on both knees during the summer.
However, he has been working hard behind the scenes since being given the go-ahead to step up his rehabilitation and feels he is now ready to return to the first team squad.
Pogatetz told the Evening Gazette: 'I am happy. It was my first 90 minutes for a long time and I felt really comfortable.
'My knees are fine. There is no problem with my fitness and I feel I am there now.
'Maybe I will be on the bench for Bolton and maybe I can travel with the squad. I have had three weeks of football and loads of fitness work and I cannot wait to get back.
'It is in the gaffer's hands, but if he wants me, I am ready. It is a tough time for the team at the moment - that's why I am pushing to get back and I am ahead of schedule.'
Pogatetz was one of the stars of last season after establishing himself as Jonathan Woodgate's central defensive partner and it is perhaps no coincidence Boro have kept only two clean sheets all season - and only one of them in the Barclays Premier League - in his absence.
Youngster David Wheater has, however, performed admirably alongside Woodgate, who missed Saturday's 1-1 draw with Tottenham with a hamstring problem.
The England international is expected to be back for the match at the Reebok Stadium, leaving Southgate to choose between Wheater, Chris Riggott and perhaps Pogatetz as the other centre-back.
Huth's return to fitness is another welcome bonus with the 23-year-old German international having managed only 14 senior appearances for the club since his £6million switch from Chelsea in August last year.
His latest return - he played an hour last night - comes after ankle surgery and while he is desperate to make himself available to Southgate, he will not be pushed too soon.
Assistant manager Malcolm Crosby told the club's website: 'Rob's had bad luck with injuries, that's all you can put it down to. But let's hope he has got over that injury he has had. He has been training of late and doing a lot of work with me and he is looking okay at the minute.'
Huth, Woodgate and striker Mido, who has been hampered by a groin problem for several weeks, remained on Teesside this week while their team-mates travelled to the Lake District for an outdoor activity course.
Mido is unlikely to figure once again this weekend with the visit of Aston Villa on November 24 a more likely target.