LEE CATTERMOLE believes the return of fit-again Phil Bardsley provides a welcome boost to Sunderland both on and off-the-field.
Bardsley made his first Premier League start of the season in last weekend’s defeat to Aston Villa after missing the opening three months of the campaign with an ankle problem.
The Scotland international remains Sunderland’s only specialist right-back and his return presented Martin O’Neill with the opportunity to shift Craig Gardner back to his favoured midfield roots for the first time this season.
But skipper Cattermole says Bardsley’s influence is not limited to the pitch, with Sunderland’s Player of the Year in 2010-11 one of the biggest characters in the Black Cats dressing room.
Cattermole told the Echo: “Bardo’s been a massive miss.
“It’s been great to see him back and he’s going to add to our team.
“He’s a great pro. He comes in and works hard every day and he’s very vocal in the dressing room.
“He’s someone you want alongside you when you go out there on a Saturday.
“We’ve got a good squad here and the gaffer has got options now.”
Bardsley is now Sunderland’s longest-serving player after the summer departure of Kieran Richardson.
But the 27-year-old endured a miserable start to the campaign after injuring his ankle on only the second day of pre-season training.
A period of rest failed to cure the problem and after it was discovered there were loose bone fragments in his ankle, the former Manchester United defender was forced to go under the knife.
But after a late substitute’s outing in Sunderland’s last away game at Stoke, Bardsley was back in the side for the back-to-back Stadium of Light defeats against Middlesbrough and Villa.
Bardsley is expected to be named in the squad to face Luxemburg in an international friendly next Wednesday. Under-21 coach Billy Stark is in temporary charge of the senior team.
Sunderland team-mate Steven Fletcher will also been included after returning to the Scotland fold for last month’s World Cup qualifiers – the final games of dismissed national team boss Craig Levein.
H Stuart McCall is the latest candidate to rule himself out of the running to succeed Levein as Scotland manager, admitting the job has come a decade too soon for him.
The Motherwell boss had been tipped as an outsider to take over the national team after Levein was sacked on Monday.
Another contender, Alex McLeish, yesterday also distanced himself from a return to the post he occupied in 2007.
As far as 40-times capped McCall is concerned, McLeish is just one of five managers he believes are better qualified than himself for the post right now.
He said: “If it was to come about in 10 years’ time it would certainly be a job I would be honoured to do.
“It would be an absolute honour. Despite the accent, I’m as patriotic as any Scot.
“The biggest playing highlight I’ve ever had was making my debut. I managed to play 40 times and it’s something that will always live with me.
“But there are five greater candidates out there than myself, with greater experience and knowledge.
“There are some terrific candidates. I think it’s a job for an experienced manager.”
Gordon Strachan has quickly emerged as the bookmakers’ favourite and, as well as McLeish, McCall also rates Walter Smith, Owen Coyle and Joe Jordan.
He said: “If you look at the candidates there are two managers who have already managed the national team, Alex McLeish and the best manager I’ve ever worked for, Walter Smith.
“There are two other men, who are great football men, with a lot of respect for them, in Gordon Strachan and Owen Coyle. Then, somebody who was my boyhood idol, Joe Jordan. There are some great candidates.”