STEVE Bruce has no qualms about throwing Phil Bardsley straight into the Premier League battle despite the defender’s six-week absence.
Bardsley has not featured for the Black Cats since September 10 after he was handed a retrospective four-match ban for a stamp on Chelsea’s Juan Mata.
Last year’s Player of the Season returns to the fold for Saturday’s trip to fellow strugglers Bolton, although it remains to be seen whether he goes straight into the side, with Kieran Richardson and John O’Shea deputising ably in the 26-year-old’s absence.
But Sunderland boss Bruce is not concerned about Bardsley’s fitness being affected by his suspension, with the full-back appearing twice for Scotland in Euro 2012 qualifiers during his domestic ban.
Bruce said: “Bardo’s had as many international games this season as he has club matches.
“He had a couple of games for Scotland before the Chelsea match and he’s had a couple afterwards so he’ll still be sharp.
“I’ll have to look at the selection closer to the game but it’s great to have him available again because he’s such a steady performer and a great competitor.
“It’s nice to have the option to pick him again and hopefully his disciplinary problems are behind him now for the rest of the season.”
Bardsley left, with his Player of the Year awards) has featured only four times for the Black Cats this season after earning a one-match ban for his late dismissal in the derby defeat to Newcastle.
That meant his punishment for the Mata incident was extended, with Bruce relieved that he can call upon the former Manchester United defender again.
“Phil has been a miss – particularly because he’s barely featured for us this season,” said Bruce.
“Phil made a daft mistake in the Chelsea game and he’s paid a heavy price for it.
“You can’t condone what he did and he has to learn, but sometimes things happen in the heat of the moment in football matches and you react in a way you wouldn’t normally.
“I don’t think there’s malice in Phil and I don’t think it was a pre-meditated thing but if you make a mistake like he did, you’ve got to accept that there’ll be repercussions.”