STEVE Bruce expects a straight fight between Kieran Richardson and Phil Bardsley for Sunderland’s Player of the Season gong.
The former Manchester United duo have been two of Sunderland’s most consistent performers this season despite being asked to play in a variety of positions.
Richardson has been used across the midfield and at left-back yet his best displays have come over the last month in the hole behind lone striker Asamoah Gyan.
The 26-year-old has grabbed four goals in the last four games and set up Gyan’s opener in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Spurs.
Meanwhile, Bardsley has been equally comfortable at right and left-back with his performances earning international honours with Scotland.
Black Cats boss Bruce said: “Phil and Kieran for me have been our best players this season.
“The best thing about Kieran, especially for a manager, is his versatility. He’s gone from left-back to playing off the front, to playing in the middle of midfield, wide left and I even played him wide right at Chelsea.
“He’s had a wonderful, wonderful season and he’s a manager’s dream – he comes in, he trains, he plays.”
Bardsley is arguably the favourite to succeed Darren Bent as the pick of Sunderland’s bunch after transforming his career on Wearside.
The 25-year-old looked like he was on his way out of the Stadium of Light last summer with Bruce ready to listen to offers for the defender. But after an impressive pre-season, Bardsley worked his way back into Bruce’s favour and signed a new three-and-a-half year deal in November.
“The biggest compliment I can pay Phil is to talk about what he did last summer,” added Bruce.
“He only had two weeks off then went to work on his physical capabilities. He came back like a different player.
“If someone asked me who our Player of the Year was, he would have to be in and around it because of the consistency he’s shown.
“You only have to look at the way he performed for Scotland last week. He was only on for 50 minutes and he got man of the match.”