Phil Bardsley is set to complete a remarkable change of fortunes and make his Sunderland return at Swansea on Saturday.
The Journal understands the right-back returned to full training at the start of this week and is available for Gus Poyet’s first game in charge at the Liberty Stadium, where the Black Cats desperately need to take points.
Having been rehabilitated in the eyes of Sunderland’s management since his casino faux-pas, he is now in serious contention to return to a squad Poyet feels needs more Premier League know-how.
Bardsley broke his foot at the start of the summer but that misfortune may have saved his Premier League career.
At that point several Championship clubs were ready to take him on loan and Sunderland had sanctioned a temporary switch for the player after failing to find a taker at their asking price of around £200,000.
Bardsley was frozen out by Paolo Di Canio after a team night out to celebrate staying in the Premier League ended with photos of the defender sprawled on the floor covered in money emerged.
He then further blotted his copy-book by posting a message on social media which appeared to mock Sunderland’s opening-day defeat against Fulham.
However, he offered a full apology to Di Canio and Ellis Short and it is understood he had been told by the Italian before his dismissal that he would be given a clean slate – just as Lee Cattermole was in the final days of the former manager’s ill-fated regime. Kevin Ball publicly absolved Bardsley and there has been a similar attitude from Poyet, the Scotland international one of the few senior professionals he has seen during his first week in charge.
While his return might split opinion among Sunderland supporters, there can be little doubt the Black Cats need everybody on board when they return to action after the international break.
Six points shy of safety, they need to take advantage of a crop of games where they will feel they can get points.
That run starts at Swansea and Poyet’s focus is on making his team more robust at the back and more competitive in the midfield area.
The Uruguyan has dismissed the idea the delay in his appointment has aided him.
While they improved over the two games, Sunderland lost to Liverpool and Manchester United in Ball’s two games in caretaker charge.
Poyet said he would have welcomed the chance to be in charge for those matches.
He said: “I watched it in a different way.
“Against Liverpool I didn’t know anything was happening, but against Manchester it was probably coming close to the final decision from the chairman.
“I was supporting the team and suffering with them. Without a doubt there was a change in attitude from the players.
“They showed more determination and aggression, that does not suggest it wasn’t there before. It was a different way before, there are different ways to football.
“I was not afraid of being in charge for those two games.
“People think ‘you were lucky for not playing against Liverpool or Manchester United’. It was circumstances. You have to accept what you get when you come in.”
Meanwhile, Duncan Watmore has been backed to make an impact at Sunderland by the club’s professional development coach Robbie Stockdale.
Watmore has made eye-catching appearances for the under-21s since joining from Altrincham.
Stockdale said: “He’s settled in well. I was one of those who watched Duncan at Altrincham and you could see there was something there.
“He has been really willing to learn and has integrated with the lads very well.
“There’s aspects of his game he needs to improve but at the same time we don’t want to lose his attributes by over coaching him.
“Duncan’s an old-fashioned kind of player in that he will get the ball and run with it.”