JOHN O’Shea has urged Sunderland to keep rejuvenated Phil Bardsley at the Stadium of Light.
Bardsley was heading to the exit door during the summer transfer window after the full-back endured a well-publicised fall-out with ex-head coach Paolo Di Canio, which left him on the verge of joining Fulham.
But Sunderland’s longest-serving first-team player remained at the Stadium of Light and has grasped the olive branch offered by Di Canio’s successor Gus Poyet to produce a string of impressive displays – capped by a man of the match performance in Tuesday night’s Capital One Cup victory over Manchester United.
Bardsley is one of nine players who only have six months to run on their Sunderland contracts though, with the club’s perilous league position delaying any talks over a new deal.
But skipper O’Shea says Sunderland should be in no hurry to dispense with Bardsley’s services, with the outgoing defender proving to be an integral part of Poyet’s rebuilding job.
O’Shea said: “Let’s be honest, Phil was inches away from leaving the club in the summer.
“Fingers crossed, we can keep hold of him because he’s the heart and soul of the place.
“Along with Jack (Colback) he’s been here the longest and you need that for a club to build.
“For instance, if Catts (Lee Cattermole) and Phil had left, Jack would have been the longest-serving player and then it would have been me, Seb (Larsson) and Wes (Brown) etc and that’s scary.”
While Bardsley has produced a run of consistent performances under Poyet, that has proved to be a problem for team-mate Adam Johnson.
The £10m winger has blown hot and cold since arriving at the Stadium of Light from Manchester City 18 months ago.
But Johnson proved to be a game-changer when he was introduced from the bench against Man United and O’Shea hopes that proves to be the sign of things to come from the 26-year-old.
“Adam came on and he was fantastic,” added the centre-half.
“It was a good call from the manager because obviously (Patrice) Evra was on the yellow as well.
“If we can keep that player for the rest of the season, it will be brilliant for us.
“You can see the quality of the lad. Once he has that confidence, he’s a magical player.
“Hopefully he can continue that form for us.”