Almost six months after a picture emerged of the player lying on the floor of a casino smothered in bank notes, Phil Bardsley’s return to the Sunderland set-up came full circle this weekend.
Gus Poyet came into Sunderland claiming that his squad had received a clean slate, and with no other player was a turning of the leaf needed more than with Bardsley.
Featuring in his favoured right-back slot for the first time this season, what was particularly encouraging about the defender’s performance in the 2-1 win over Newcastle was just that, his certainty in defence.
For some time, it’s the shoring up of things at the back that Bardsley’s sometimes had an issue with, gleefully pelting forward for the occasional thronker, but often sacrificing holes in the defence to do so. Such weaknesses weren’t evident against the Magpies, where he managed to succeed in all seven of his attempted tackles, five of which came in his own half.
Considering Bardsley managed just 20 successful tackles in his entire 2012/13 season, that’s not a bad return on one’s comeback to their natural position, having conceded four goals from left-back the week previous.
Despite his evident shortcomings, the former Manchester United man can arguably be considered Poyet’s most logical choice on the right side of defence. A more natural player in the role than Craig Gardner and boasting more Premier League experience than Ondrej Celutska, one can understand who Poyet would shrug off any previous misgivings the player might have had with old management.
Don’t be misled, however, this was no new Phil Bardsley that appeared against Newcastle. In fact, there was nothing dazzling about the display, but is there anything actually wrong with that?
But, much like Lee Cattermole, Bardsley simply did what was needed of him and pitched in with a fine defensive effort first and foremost, a stubborn seven clearances being just one of the by-products.
As is so often the case in modern full-backs, there’s a tendency to almost function as a second winger, focused more on attacking contribution than making secure one’s own lines. The Black Cats can’t afford such luxuries right now and it’s just as well Bardsley fits that bill.
Now firmly on his way to Stadium of Light redemption, Phil Bardsley’s Sunderland career might just receive a much-needed second wind under Poyet.