BORN-AGAIN Phil Bardsley admits he needed to re-pay supporters for his indiscretions after coming in from the cold under Gus Poyet.
Bardsley netted his second goal in as many games yesterday to secure a fourth successive Stadium of Light victory over Manchester City and hand Sunderland a huge boost in their battle for Premier League survival.
The full-back has started all of Poyet’s five games in charge after finding himself ostracised by former head coach Paolo Di Canio.
Bardsley was forced to train with the Under-21s during the summer and was made available for transfer after he was pictured celebrating in a casino following Sunderland’s successful quest to avoid the drop last season.
The 28-year-old then alienated supporters further by mocking Sunderland’s opening day defeat to Fulham on social media – comments that earned him a club suspension and fine.
But Bardsley received a warm ovation from the terraces at the final whistle yesterday after helping Sunderland to a third successive home win and a first top flight clean sheet of the campaign.
Bardsley told the Echo: “I’m just enjoying my football again and trying to play with a smile on my face.
“The reaction from supporters meant a lot.
“I let them down and it was up to me to repay them with performances on the football pitch.
“I’m trying to do that as much as I can and if I keep scoring goals and keep defending the way I have done in the last couple of games, hopefully I will do that.
“I know what this football club is all about.
“I’ve been here seven years now and to stay in the league is the most important thing.
“For me to be on top of my game, I hope that will help a lot.
“It was different circumstances that surrounded what happened (under Di Canio).
“But the manager has come in and brought me in from the cold and I’m enjoying myself.”
Bardsley admits he thought his Sunderland career was finished under Di Canio, but says he owes a huge debt of gratitude to Poyet for his faith.
“When you’re not playing and you’re out in the cold it’s difficult,” said the club’s longest-serving first-team player.
“It’s difficult for your family, for your friends.
“You ask anyone in football and when you’re not playing, you’re not happy. It’s as simple as that.
“I wasn’t playing and it looked like my Sunderland career was well and truly over, to be honest.
“The manager has brought me back and shown faith in me and I owe him a lot for doing that.
“I felt myself that I owed this football club even more and hopefully I can continue doing that.”
Bardsley’s first half goal gave Sunderland a deserved lead as the Black Cats again practised the possession-based philosophy which Poyet has tried to implement since arriving on Wearside a month ago.
And while Sunderland were forced to defend doggedly in the second half, Bardsley insists the players are relishing life under Poyet, with the Wearsiders now just three points adrift of safety.
“It’s a massive victory for us,” added Bardsley.
“We’ve been working hard on the philosophy the manager wants to play and we’ve been doing that.
“As much desire and commitment we’ve shown, when we had the ball, we showed great desire to pass it and move, and make angles.
“That’s exactly what the manager wants. His philosophy on football is fantastic and the lads are loving playing for him.”