Phil Bardsley’s return a big boost for Sunderland, says skipper

TACKLE THIS ... Sunderland's  Phil Bardsley  and Aston Villa's Gabriel Agbonlahor battle for the ball.
TACKLE THIS ... Sunderland's Phil Bardsley and Aston Villa's Gabriel Agbonlahor battle for the ball.

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 Gazette: “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 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 and Sunderland team-mate Steven Fletcher were expected to be named in the Scotland squad to face Luxemburg in an international friendly next Wednesday.

The naming of the squad was delayed until today after Craig Levein was sacked as manager on Monday.