SCOTLAND boss Gordon Strachan believes Phil Bardsley is getting better all the time after recalling the Sunderland defender to the international fold.
Bardsley, along with Sunderland team-mate Steven Fletcher, was included in the Scotland squad yesterday for the friendly against Poland on Wednesday, March 5 – three days after the Capital One Cup final.
The full-back has not featured for his country since winning his 12th cap in a 5-1 friendly defeat to the USA in May 2012 and has been included for the first time during Strachan’s stewardship.
When the former Middlesbrough and Celtic manager took charge last January, Bardsley was struggling for form under Martin O’Neill after missing pre-season through injury and then endured a notoriously fractious relationship with ex-Sunderland boss Paolo Di Canio.
But Bardsley has been a regular since Gus Poyet’s arrival at the Stadium of Light last October and has been one of Sunderland’s most consistent performers over recent months.
Strachan said: “Bardsley’s back in there and has been a terrific player for Sunderland in the last few months.
“At this stage last season, we never saw him. Now we’ve seen him and the more games he gets, the better he has become.
“He has been a big figure in Sunderland’s improvement over the last few months.”
Bardsley could be competing for the left-back slot with 19-year-old Dundee United starlet Andrew Robertson, who has impressed Strachan following his summer move from Queen’s Park, notably during a joint training session with Scotland Under-21s.
Strachan added: “I saw him in the first game of the season against Partick Thistle and I thought ‘you’ve got something. You are a bit raw... need to learn one or two things’. So we have kept an eye on him.
“He also joined us in training a couple of months back and we like him. He deserves it. He got his move to Dundee United and has been consistent for seven months.”
Fletcher’s participation will depend on the striker’s fitness after he only returned to training this week following almost three weeks on the treatment table with an Achilles injury.
But there was no place in the squad for Sunderland’s January signing, Liam Bridcutt.
The ex-Brighton midfielder made his international debut under Strachan in March’s World Cup qualifying defeat to Serbia, but has not been capped since.
Strachan was delighted to be able to recall Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher, who has played nine times for his club since returning from ulcerative colitis, the chronic bowel illness that kept him out of action for virtually the whole of last year.
“It was wonderful over the Christmas period to see him back playing football and what a Christmas present that was for him,” Strachan said. “Now we are going to take it a stage further. I’ve seen him playing and he has lost none of his enthusiasm, which he will never lose to be honest. To have someone of his standing back in the squad is terrific.
“When you have medical problems, doctors do a real lot to help you out but there is also the patient themself. How strong are they? And he is strong-minded.
“I have been in contact with him now for a year. Not too much, just enquiring about his health and whether there was anything we could help him with. He has joined us in a couple of squads but for him I would imagine this will be like joining with the squad for the first time.”
SCOTLAND SQUAD: Gilks (Blackpool), Marshall (Cardiff), McGregor (Hull); Bardsley (Sunderland), Berra (Ipswich), Greer (Brighton), Hanley (Blackburn), Hutton (Aston Villa), Martin (Norwich), Robertson (Dundee Utd), Whittaker (Norwich); Adam (Stoke), Anya (Watford), Bannan (Crystal Palace), Brown (Celtic), Burke (Birmingham), D Fletcher (Man Utd), Forrest (Celtic), Morrison (West Brom), Mulgrew (Celtic), Snodgrass (Norwich); S Fletcher (Sunderland), McCormack (Leeds), Naismith (Everton).