PHIL Bardsley believes the loss of Sunderland’s key figures has been to blame for the club’s sluggish start to the season – not Black Cats boss Steve Bruce.
Sunderland have taken a modest 10 points from the opening 11 games to leave them down in 15th place in the table as the Premier League takes a two-week breather.
After a summer of high expectations on Wearside, Bruce has received his share of flak at recording just two victories, with the Black Cats facing four upcoming high-pressure outings against teams also in the bottom half.
But full-back Bardsley insists Bruce deserves some leeway after months of upheaval to his playing squad.
Sunderland have lost the services of England internationals Darren Bent, Danny Welbeck and Jordan Henderson during 2011, along with record signing Asamoah Gyan and club captain Bolo Zenden – forcing Bruce to land 11 fresh faces during the summer.
Bardsley told the Echo: “With the players we have brought in and the players we lost at the end of last season, it has been difficult for the manager to build a team.
“Since January, the likes of Bent, Welbeck, Henderson and Gyan have all left and they were all big players for us when we were doing well in the first half of last season.
“There’s a new bunch of players in the squad now and people have to realise that and be a little bit realistic.
“I know it’s frustrating, but it’s part of the rollercoaster of football. We just need a few wins to take some of the pressure off and put a smile back on people’s faces.
“It’s a results-based business and I know a lot of people have been putting the blame on the manager, but I think that’s wrong.
“We’re the players out on the pitch and we have to make sure we sort it out for ourselves.
“We need to stand up and be counted, each and every one of us.”
Bardsley, set to feature for Scotland in tomorrow night’s friendly with Cyprus, believes Sunderland have begun to turn the corner though after encouraging performances in their last four games.
The 26-year-old hopes that will be translated into points over the winter, with the new boys now more accustomed to their surroundings on Wearside.
“We can only improve and I think the new players now have adjusted,” added Bardsley, who made his first start since September in last weekend’s defeat at Manchester United.
“They’re used to the way we play and what’s required from the manager and the fans.
“We’ve been playing some positive stuff and that’s a great sign.
“Hopefully we can get a good run over November and December.
“If we can take the performances into one big game, then it would be great for us.”