THE names on the team-sheet will be pretty similar, but Phil Bardsley has warned Swansea City that tomorrow they will face a totally different team to the one they played in August.
A Black Cats side featuring debutant John O’Shea drew 0-0 in south Wales early in the campaign. Only the on-loan Nicklas Bendtner has been added since, but Bardsley argues their mentality has changed beyond recognition.
“I played the game at Swansea earlier in the season, we had a few chances that day,” said the full-back. “This time we are at home, so it would be nice to get more than the goalless draw we got there.
“It’s weird because we go into that game with the same group of players that were around in August. Yet the mentality has changed in that time quite a bit. We are really hard to beat and if we can take that into the game then we will win it.”
The transformation in Sunderland has come mainly from changes off the field. Martin O’Neill replaced Steve Bruce as manager in early December, bringing a new backroom team with him.
The improvement in his eight games has been astonishing, the Wearsiders quickly transformed from relegation fodder to a team looking to emulate last season’s top-half finish. They have suffered only two defeats, at Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea.
The celebrations from the home bench after last Saturday’s 1-0 win showed the scare Sunderland had given André Villas-Boas’ Blues.
“It shows the mentality that we went to Chelsea desperate to show that we would not be beaten,” said Bardsley. “Unfortunately we lost, but we didn’t deserve to.
“The lads did themselves really proud. The manager firmly believed we should have won the game. You look at the chances, we did create plenty and we should have at least got a result, if not the win.”
If Sunderland go into the game with confidence high, the same can be said of their opponents.
Unbeaten since Christmas, Swansea enjoyed a 3-2 over Arsenal – their third in a row – on Sunday to leapfrog the Black Cats in the Premier League table.
“Swansea are a decent team,” said Bardsley. “We have three (consecutive) home games now and we feel confident. We are in with a great shout of climbing into the top 10 on a regular basis (they go into tomorrow’s game in 12th) and we have to try to do that. If we can turn more of our chances into goals then I’m sure it will happen for us.”
August deadline-day signing Bendtner remains the last player to join, and as things stand, O’Neill seems happy to keep it that way.
Eight players have left this month, but all are fringe men, and only two have gone permanently.
The Ulsterman has not ruled out a January signing and is keeping an eye on the market, but hinted it will probably take a long-term injury to persuade him to buy.
“It’s the injuries that would cause you more concern – you can deal with suspensions, they are part and parcel of it, but that definitely causes you a concern,” he admitted.
“I don’t think anybody is a fan of it (the transfer window). January becomes a manic month.
“The problem with it is you realise that when you come to February 1, that’s it all over, so whatever team you have assembled at that stage, that’s it until the end of the season.
“If you get a spate of injuries in the first or second week of February, then you can’t do anything about it, so from that viewpoint, it becomes a bit manic.”
Meanwhile, Asamoah Gyan proved his fitness for the African Cup of Nations with a goal as Ghana beat South African side Platinum Stars 2-0. The striker, on loan at Al-Ain, had been a doubt with a hamstring injury.
The Black Stars’ opening Group D game is against Botswana on Tuesday.