PHIL Bardsley admits Sunderland’s next four games could define their season.
Tomorrow’s Stadium of Light clash with Fulham is the first of four encounters against sides lying alongside Sunderland in the bottom half of the Premier League table.
Despite taking just 10 points from the opening 11 games, full-back Bardsley insists Sunderland must be confident that they can put their campaign into gear.
Bardsley told the Echo: “They’re possibly defining games of our season.
“They’re massive games against Fulham, Wigan, Wolves and Blackburn.
“They’re not easy teams to play against, but looking at them on paper, you fancy your chances.
“We know they’ll be difficult though and we know we’ll have to be at our best like we were at Old Trafford.
“Hopefully we can get off to a good start with three points against Fulham.”
Sunderland will be forced into a re-shuffle tomorrow with the suspended Seb Larsson and injured Connor Wickham both ruled out.
It forces boss Steve Bruce to make further changes to a team only beginning to find its feet after another overhaul of personnel in the transfer market during the summer.
By contrast, Sunderland face a familiar-looking Fulham side with the spine of Martin Jol’s team remaining in place for several years.
“They’re a very organised, steady team with no superstars,” said Bardsley.
“They’re a threat going forward with (Bobby) Zamora, (Andrew) Johnson and (Moussa) Dembele.
“If you look, they’ve had the same players for the last few years and they all know their jobs. They play to a structure and that’s vital in the Premier League.
“If you get that solid core and foundations, it will always make you a tough team to play against. It’s been chopping and changing here every transfer window.
“The manager has brought his players in and we’ve had to adapt to injuries and suspensions.
“It never seems to run in a smooth line here.
“Hopefully, after we got a good win at Bolton, a point against Villa and gave a good account of ourselves at Man United, we can keep the progress going.”
Bardsley could switch to left-back tomorrow to accommodate the fit-again John O’Shea, with Kieran Richardson pushing forward into midfield.
Last season’s Player of the Year made his first start since September in Sunderland’s last game at Manchester United and hopes he can stay in Bruce’s side.
“I was delighted with my performance at Man United and it’s up to the manager to decide which team he goes with,” added the 26-year-old.
“Hopefully I get another opportunity to play tomorrow. It was difficult for me after coming back from the suspensions.
“Even though we had a couple of poor results when I was out the team, I knew the lads at the back had done well.
“It’s nice to be back in the fold, you’ve just got to be patient and train properly and I think the manager appreciates that.”