PHIL Bardsley is in line for his first start of the season tomorrow after coming on as a second-half substitute at Stoke City on Saturday.
The 27-year-old was an 83rd-minute replacement for Danny Rose at the Britannia Stadium and saw out the game in the left-back position – his first first-team appearance since injuring his ankle in the opening week of pre-season training.
But tomorrow he is likely to be restored to his preferred right-back role for the Capital One Cup visit of local rivals Middlesbrough to the Stadium of Light.
Manager Martin O’Neill will not want to give his team away ahead of tomorrow’s game, but he conceded: “There’s a good chance of Phil Bardsley starting the game.
“He was close at Stoke and he might well be ready for Tuesday.”
The Sunderland manager is likely to make several changes to the team which played at the Britannia at the weekend, with Bardsley being just one of them.
Newly-signed James McFadden will hope to make the squad
Midfielder David Vaughan is likely to have a chance of starting the match, having impressed as a substitute in the recent derby game against Newcastle United.
Further upfield Stephane Sessegnon has a good chance of being restored immediately to the starting line-up – offering an opportunity to find the form that has eluded him so far this season.
And if the Benin international does start, then the manager also faces a decision over whether Steven Fletcher or Louis Saha gets the chances to partner him.
It will be an intriguing selection choice and one which O’Neill says is increasingly an option for him now that he has virtually a full squad to call upon.
“We can’t make wholesale changes because we haven’t got that big a squad,” he said.
“But with Phil Bardsley coming back, it will allow Craig Gardner to be released to compete for a place in the middle of the field.
“And Lee Cattermole has also returned so we are going to have more options and for that reason we might be looking at a few changes here and there as we go onwards.
“I left Stephane Sessegnon out of my starting line-up against Stoke City for example and he looked invigorated when he came on.
“Now we have a game Tuesday night and there may be a few changes but the bottom line is that we want to try to stay in the competition.
“It’s a derby game we want to get through.”