Fighting-fit Phil Bardsley has urged Sunderland not to let their levels drop again as they look to land a telling blow on relegation rivals Stoke this weekend.
The Black Cats signed off for the international break with a stunning defeat of Manchester City but their campaign has been marked by inconsistency, and Bardsley is wary of a repeat of the kind of dip that cost them crucial points after their last home win.
Stoke are struggling for points themselves and if Sunderland can exploit their problems it would draw the Potters into the mix at the bottom – as well as giving Gus Poyet’s men real hope of extricating themselves from the bottom three in time for the turn of the year.
Bardsley (pictured left) – who has revealed another summer boxing camp has enabled him to come back into the Sunderland set-up – believes that consistency is key if the Black Cats are to build on a huge three points against Manchester City.
He said: “We’ve got to build on what we did against Manchester City. That was a great win but there’s still a long way for us to go and we’ve got to show the same commitment and desire that we showed in that game for the rest of the season now.” The red and white intrigue over the last week or so has centred around two former managers of the club becoming engaged in a war of words, with Bardsley the collateral damage as Paolo Di Canio sought to justify his own time in charge.
Di Canio said he was “treasonous” for appearing to celebrate a Sunderland defeat on the opening day but it was not quite as clear cut as that, with Bardsley having accused the former boss of trying to “destroy” him after the Manchester City match.
He says he trained hard over the summer in case another opportunity arose. And Bardsley believes the broken foot which stopped him from leaving Sunderland in the summer might be the best thing to happen to his career.
Bardsley is bidding to try and convince the Black Cats hierarchy that he deserves another contract after a tumultuous 2013 that saw him excommunicated by the club over the summer – before a dramatic return to favour and successive winning goals in the club’s last two games.
The Scotland defender will be involved again as Sunderland bid to build on their pre-international break momentum at Stoke this weekend, but he knows that if he hadn’t got injured over the summer he would have been playing elsewhere.
“I spent the summer in the boxing gym again. I do it every summer,” he said.
“This year I was with Jamie Moore and Stevie Foster Junior at the gym in Salford. I wouldn’t get in with them though – they’re too tough for me!
“I trained all over the summer boxing. I came back fit and wanted to be as ready as I could be for whatever happened. All credit to Kevin Ball and Robbie Stockdale and Scotty Pearce for getting me in great nick over the summer.
“Unfortunately I broke my foot in a daft challenge and I remember thinking at the time, ‘Can this get any worse?’ People at the club said to me it was the best thing that has happened to me at the football club because I could have been on my way out. That’s a nice little thing for people to say. It hurt though.”
Meanwhile, the Black Cats have been linked with 17-year-old Halmstad striker Valmir Berisha – the forward nicknamed the “new Ibrahimovic”.
Sunderland’s January priority is likely to be recruits for the senior set-up but as evidenced by their interest in Diego Poyet and Dundee United defender John Souttar, who rejected the opportunity to join the Black Cats, they are attempting to improve their development squad too.