PHIL BARDSLEY has seen his Sunderland career rotate 360 degrees in the last two months.
When Gus Poyet arrived at the Stadium of Light, there appeared little prospect of Bardsley ever playing for Sunderland again.
The 28-year-old was ostracised by former head coach Paolo Di Canio for celebrating Sunderland’s survival last season in a casino, and then subsequently earned the fury of supporters by mocking the Black Cats’ opening day defeat to Fulham – comments which earned him a club suspension.
Only a broken foot sustained while playing for the Under-21s in August, prevented Sunderland’s longest-serving first-teamer from ending his stint on Wearside and joining Fulham.
But after watching Bardsley feature in a behind-closed-doors U21s friendly following his appointment, Poyet offered the full-back an olive branch.
Since then, Bardsley has been a fixture in Poyet’s plans.
There have been a couple of own goals along the way, but Bardsley has been one of Sunderland’s most consistent performers - netting three times at the right end and going closer than anyone at West Ham last weekend with a 25-yard drive that rattled the crossbar.
Poyet told the Echo: “There are players that I cannot complain about.
“I’ve seen where we were when we arrived and people weren’t talking on the pitch and we had players starting from zero (with their fitness).
“Phil was one of the main ones starting from zero, but you can see how much he cares.
“He’s becoming one of biggest threats going forward too!
“He wants to play all the time and he’s always part of the group.
“He’s a very good character; someone who really feels for the club and it’s important to have players like that.”
Bardsley is one of nine Sunderland first-team players out-of-contract at the end of the season and there have been reports that the Black Cats will offer the former Manchester United man a new deal.
But while Sunderland remain embroiled in the relegation zone, that looks unlikely.