Sunderland’s Gardner and Bardsley to return

Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio welcomes back Craig Gardner and Phil Bardsley.

Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio welcomes back Craig Gardner and Phil Bardsley.

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PAOLO Di Canio says he will not be afraid to change a winning team when Sunderland take on Aston Villa on Monday night.

And that policy is likely to spell instant returns for Craig Gardner – returned from suspension; and Phil Bardsley – back from injury.

The Black Cats go into next week’s game at Villa Park buoyant after two wins on the spin – over Newcastle United and Everton – with the only change between those two matches being the inclusion of Jack Colback against the Blues, in place of the injured Bardsley.

But Di Canio, pictured right, says he does not necessarily believe in a winning formula, just because it worked in a previous game and revealed he will tailor his team for the opposition facing Sunderland.

Asked if it would be tough for him to change a winning side, he replied: “No, no, no, it is not because I know already the quality of Craig and also of Phil – who is back from injury. Phil is ready.

“And it is not difficult for me, not a difficult choice, because I have clear in my brain what I want from my players.

“Already I am 99 per cent certain of the team I want for Monday because this game is crucial and it is important to have energy, experience and quality.

“I don’t mind playing young players if they are ready.

“But to have players like Phil and Craig back and available again makes me happy.”

The return of Gardner from a two-match ban after picking up his 10th yellow card in the game against Chelsea, and Bardsley from a knock sustained in the derby victory will be a boost to Di Canio, who is without skipper Lee Cattermole and leading scorer Steven Fletcher for the remainder of the season.

The new head coach will also go into the Villa game without England Under 21 striker Connor Wickham, still sidelined with a calf injury, and Titus Bramble, who broke down again in training this week.

But he told the Echo: “I am not a worried manager.

“I would like to have more options in terms of players I could select, but I have enough as it is and having Phil and Craig back is great for us.

“The game against Villa is a tough game, but I am happy with the players I have to call upon.”