SUNDERLAND full-back Phil Bardsley believes that having a new mantra to buy into has helped propel them up the Premier League under Martin O’Neill.
Prior to O’Neill’s appointment as Black Cats boss last December, Sunderland were hovering dangerously above the relegation zone and looked like a side that was jaded and lacking in ideas.
Fast forward to the present and despite last week’s defeat to Arsenal, Sunderland are ninth with a decent shout of an assault on the Europa League places – pending a good run of results from now until the end of the season of course.
It has been a remarkable turn-around and one that has left many wondering what O’Neill’s secret formula is. After all, he seems to have a galvanising effect wherever he manages be it Wycombe, Leicester, Celtic or Aston Villa.
However, while this might be a state secret as far as Wearside is concerned, Bardsley (pictured left) must be wishing his manager would reveal it because as for him knowing what it is...
“It’s the 100th time I’ve been asked that question,” he groaned. “It’s little things in general, little bits of organisation here and there.
“It’s all about rallying us and bringing a little bit of belief back. We’d lost a little bit of that, the results didn’t exactly breed confidence but now the results are good, everybody’s singing from the same hymn sheet and we’re all going in the right direction.
“We want to win football matches, that’s the philosophy behind it. Everyone’s got to fight for their place when a new manager comes in, everyone’s stepped their game up a little bit and we’re reaping the rewards of that.
“Some of the players are playing out of their skin at the minute.”
Bardsley and his team-mates are in the strange position of facing the same opposition twice within a week.
Arsenal came away from Wearside last weekend with a 2-1 victory and they’ll be heading back up on Saturday to see if they can make it a Black Cats double by knocking them out of the FA Cup.
But given how close Sunderland ran them in the league fixture, Bardsley says another tight encounter may be in the offing, adding: “They don’t usually come like this, back to back games against the same team, it will be an interesting one.
“I thought we dominated the game last week in parts, even though they had quite a lot of the ball, but we still attacked them with pace and penetration when we had possession. Hopefully we can do that again this weekend.
“It was comfortable in the first half, I can’t really remember them having too many shots on goal, quite a thing for a team like Arsenal. They usually have a few chances but that is down to us being organised and hard to beat.”
Elsewhere, Carlisle United boss Greg Abbott is hoping to extend the loan period of Sunderland youngster Jordan Cook.
The 21-year-old striker (pictured left) has been at Brunton Park this past month and Abbott is keen to have him around for longer.
He said: “We will try to do something to keep Jordan with us. With Lee Miller’s suspension situation and the size of the squad we’ll try to keep him here.”
Meanwhile, John Egan, Ryan Noble and Trevor Carson have all returned to Sunderland from their own loan spells at Crystal Palace, Derby County and Hull City respectively.