PHIL Bardsley could be part of a triple injury boost for Sunderland in tomorrow’s crunch clash with fellow strugglers Southampton.
Bardsley sustained minor knee ligament damage in last week’s victory over basement boys Reading, which sidelined him for the return to his former club Manchester United at the weekend.
But the full-back was a surprise participant in training yesterday, and could join fit-again Danny Rose and Steven Fletcher for the trip to St Mary’s.
It has been a miserable season so far for Bardsley after an ankle injury, on just the second day of pre-season training, kept him on the treatment table until late October.
But even if the 27-year-old is not deemed fit enough for tomorrow’s encounter, his sooner-than-expected return will provide Martin O’Neill with a boost ahead of the busy festive programme.
O’Neill told SportMail: “Phil did a bit yesterday which was his first day back.
“We’ll see how he is, but he didn’t complain which is encouraging.
“Missing the whole pre-season was a big blow to him.
“He came here in the second day of pre-season training, did his ankle, and that’s a long time to miss.
“Trying to get that sharpness back mid-season is difficult for most people.”
On-loan Spurs left-back Rose failed a fitness test prior to the clash at Old Trafford after sustaining an ankle problem against Reading.
And he was joined on the sidelines by top scorer Fletcher, who limped off at half-time against the league leaders after sustaining a back injury in the warm-up.
But the duo have trained this week, and both are likely to be in the starting XI against the fourth bottom Saints.
“Fletcher and Danny Rose have done a bit of work,” said O’Neill.
“We’ve obviously got today to get through, but they are improving.
“It would be good if they are available for tomorrow.
“I think Danny’s was just a matter of time. He failed a fitness test last week.
“Steven’s was a new injury, so you’re never sure. In the warm-up he just twisted something.
“He came in early from the warm-up to get some treatment, but he was uncomfortable.
“But the injury news is certainly brighter than it was last Saturday afternoon.”
Meanwhile, England winger Adam Johnson has improved after suffering against Man United with the after-effects of the dead leg he sustained against Reading.
O’Neill added: “Adam trained yesterday and had no complaints. It’s a few days on, and he’s improved.”