PHIL BARDSLEY’S rehabilitation as a Sunderland player continued last night with the crucial opening goal which helped the Black Cats reach the last eight of the League Cup for the first time in 13 years.
Bardsley benefited from a loose ball in the box from a set-piece Sunderland attacked with vigour and further vindicated new head coach Gus Poyet’s decision to recall him from the first-team exile previous boss Paolo Di Canio had imposed.
“I’m pleased for Phil, pleased that he got the goal,” said the Uruguayan.
“We put four defenders in the box and left Jack Colback outside because we felt we lacked a bit of height on set-pieces.
“It was a bit of a risk, but, overall, it worked and we have to be happy with that.
“It was never a problem for me, bringing Phil back into the squad.
“As soon as I arrived and saw him train, I felt he could be important to us.
“With the situation at the time of Andrea Dossena not being fit enough, I thought Phil could be a good addition to the team.
“He’s under contract, so why not play him?”
While Poyet was happy with one full-back, he was unhappy to lose another – with Ondrej Celustka forced off with an injury 20 minutes from time – and also knows that he has to be careful with the returning and influential centre-half Wes Brown.
“I have things that we need to handle very carefully,” he nodded.
“We seem to have a problem with full-backs this season, no?
“First of all, Phil wasn’t playing, then we have Andrea Dossena sent off and now against Southampton we have Ondrej Celustka picking up a knock which makes him very doubtful for the Manchester City game this weekend.
“These are situations which need to be handled carefully – like the one with Wes Brown.
“He is a long-serving Man United player of real experience and quality and he could be great for us.
“We have to be so careful with him because he has been out for almost two years and has now played one-and-a-half games in four days.
“We will see how it goes between now and Sunday for him because it is important that we do not ask too much too soon from him.”
Poyet will relish the December 17 cup clash with Chelsea, who are also due at the Stadium of Light 13 days earlier on Premier League duty.
The Uruguayan said with a smile: “I suppose that’s good news, yes?
“Look, they are the games I need to enjoy. In quarter-finals, you can’t ask for any small team, you know you are going to get one of the big ones.
“It’s going to be special for me – an official game against Chelsea is always very special – so I am looking forward to seeing Jose and company.”