The Agenda: Is Phil Bardsley the answer to Sunderland's troubles?

Gus Poyet hopes he can bring his new Black Cats dressing room onside by bringing Phil Bardsley back

Phil Bardsley
Phil Bardsley

It hasn’t taken Gus Poyet long to realise what Sunderland’s issues are.

“We have two problems,” he said. “One we concede too many and two we don’t score too many. It is simple!”

A grin breaks out on Poyet’s face as he says it. In fact, he smiles quite a lot for a manager whose team are six points shy of safety, have barely trained together since his appointment nine days ago and are yet to win a game this season.

A week ago – in response to a question about whether he was just, in effect, Paolo Di Canio-lite – the Uruguyan asked for opinions on him to be suspended until they had seen him action.

The word from the training ground is he is the polar opposite of the fiery Italian, having – in the words of Adam Johnson – lifted a “weight off everyone’s shoulders”.

Di Canio he is not, and not just because he lacks the misplaced intensity of his predecessor.

Poyet intends to be more inclusive, less prone to mood swings in his team selection and more of a unifying figure than Di Canio ever was.

His first call is a major one. Recalling Phil Bardsley is a gamble because many supporters see his last transgression – poking fun at the club’s opening day defeat against Fulham – as being so far beyond the pale he should never be involved with the team again.

A quick poll on Twitter (never the most scientific barometer) after The Journal’s original story on Saturday suggested some would go as far as jeering him if he pulled on a Sunderland shirt again.

To put it in context, Bardsley’s insensitive comment was aimed at Di Canio rather than the club and privately he was understood to be mortified by the perception he wanted the team to lose. Having your professionalism called into question tends to be a red rag to a bull and Bardsley, who felt he was unfairly singled out by a manager desperate to make someone an example after the casino visit, allowed himself to be led by emotion.

Like Poyet, he wants to be judged on football from now on and that can play into Sunderland’s hands.

Few other players in the Premier League have such a debt to repay and a motivated Bardsley will be a footballing asset to the new manager. First impressions? His reaction in training this week has been “exceptional”. He is likely to play a part tomorrow.

It is a risk but Poyet did a good job of explaining it. When you’ve a six-point gap to make up, you might need to take a few risks along the way.

The new boss explained: “It’s not just about saying we need everybody pulling in the same direction. How many times have you heard people saying that? The situation we’re in is a proper one and we really need everybody onside, everybody together. I mean all.

“There cannot be any breaks, there cannot be any splits.

“We need to make sure we’re all convinced this is the right way and then we stick by it, to the end and then we’ll see where we finish.

“At the end, I will be responsible. Everybody will have responsibility, but I’m the main one, but not until the end.

“Let’s not start talking about what if. We cannot buy players, so we have to use the ones we have - and we really need to pull in the same direction.”

Poyet’s biggest bugbear with Sunderland this season is the constant chopping and changing of the starting XI. He sees this as the root cause for many of the problems the club has encountered this term and will seek to establish a solid spine to the team before imposing his playing philosophy – the slick passing game Brighton played – on the team.

He added: “It’s like scales – we need to balance the scales. It is simple in here but it is difficult on the pitch.

“We need to make sure we do the right things at the back – we are organised and difficult to beat.

“Then we start playing our game with our quality players. There are plenty of thigns we need to improve but slowly - we cannot change everything in 10 days or two days with the international players.”

There are positives for Poyet to ponder on the long trip to Swansea.

A major plus is the rapid return of Steven Fletcher from a shoulder injury which was expected to keep him out of action until November.

Poyet said: “He is available tomorrowand that is one of the greatest bits of news. When I signed the contract he was a question mark, now it is confirmed he is available for Saturday so that is very important for us.

“It’s a massive boost because I didn’t know. We were all waiting on the other options up front – what time or when Jozy Altidore was coming back. How the other players would adapt – Fabio Borini and Connor Wickham.

“It was always something at the back of my head, I was waiting for it to be confirmed.”

Going back to Poyet’s original point about this Sunderland side, the Scotland striker’s return will be a Godsend.

He is the club’s only prolific forward and he has illustrated a willingness to play through the pain to aid the Black Cats’ cause.

Poyet added: “The problem has been about contact.

“He was fitter than anyone because he has been training on his own, running up and down, in the gym more than any other player.

“The idea was to check this week if he was able to compete and use his body in the proper way, especially when you play in the position he plays.

“Everything has been fine and we hope nobody does anything silly against him. It has been good news.

“He is desperate to help as well and put himself about. Sometimes you need to play with a bit of pain as well.”


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