PHIL BARDSLEY believes John O’Shea has been the unsung hero of Sunderland’s resurgence, as the Black Cats sweat on the centre-half’s fitness.
Sunderland toiled without the injured O’Shea in Tuesday’s defeat at Blackburn Rovers after the Irish international sustained a hamstring problem in training 24 hours earlier.
Black Cats boss Martin O’Neill is hopeful the 30-year-old will be available for tomorrow’s visit of QPR after taking a precautionary stance with the former Manchester United man at Ewood Park.
Sotirios Kyrgiakos, who made his Sunderland debut against Blackburn, is in line to continue alongside Michael Turner if O’Shea remains sidelined, with Matt Kilgallon short on match fitness and Wes Brown yet to return from a knee injury.
But Sunderland will be eager to see O’Shea restored to the starting line-up, with the former Manchester United man showing his credentials since being switched to centre-half at the turn of the year.
Full-back Bardsley told the Echo: “Sheasy puts his head in where it hurts and doesn’t always get the praise he deserves.
“I’ve obviously played alongside John before at Man United and I think he’s been magnificent in the centre of defence.
“Ever since he was a young lad, he’s played at centre-half, but it comes with the territory when you’re at a club like Man United that you get shifted here, there and everywhere.
“In the end, you never know where your best position is until you get set. He’s been phenomenal at centre-half.
“He’s formed a good partnership with Michael Turner too. Tina’s had his injures, but he’s got back to his best.
“I’m delighted for him, because he’s one whose got no airs or graces, he just gets on with his business. You want to see people like that do well.”
Sunderland face the third of five games inside 14 days tomorrow, with supporters inevitably turning half an eye towards Tuesday’s FA Cup quarter final replay with Everton.
But Bardsley insists Sunderland can cope with that demanding schedule and is hopeful of fulfilling the Black Cats’ ambitions of securing a top eight spot.
“The run of games is fine, the top teams do it week-in, week-out,” said Bardsley, who captained Sunderland at Blackburn in the absence of O’Shea and suspended skipper Lee Cattermole.
“If we want to class ourselves as a top team, you’ve got to cope.”
The 26-year-old added: “We’ve got nine Premier League games to go and it would be nice to improve on last season. We want to finish in that top eight.
“I’d say now we are where we thought we’d be at the start of the season.
“We were unfortunate with certain things, but things have to happen and they happen for a reason.
“We’ve not looked back and hopefully we can carry this form on.”