There’s no easing up for Sunderland
11:05am Wednesday 18th April 2012
PHIL BARDSLEY has denied that Sunderland have lost focus after their FA Cup exit earlier in the month.
The Black Cats have not won a game in the Premier League after losing to Everton in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, and have not scored a goal since their creditable 3-3 draw at Manchester City on March 31.
Failure to beat basement side Wolverhampton Wanderers last weekend and a 4-0 defeat at Everton on Easter Monday drew criticism from those who believe Sunderland have one eye on the beach – but, with £800,000 per place in merit payments to play for, Bardsley has denied that his teammates’ minds are elsewhere.
“All the players think exactly the same, it’s our challenge to get as high as we can in the league,” said the rightback, who will be in the Sunderland squad to face Aston Villa on Saturday.
“The last couple of results haven’t gone particularly the way we wanted. We played well against Man City, and got a couple of clean sheets along the way in recent weeks, but three points would have been better. Hopefully we can do that on Saturday.
“It’s a tough old season, it has been ten months of graft and you don’t get a minute’s rest in the Premier League. If you switch off for one minute you get punished.
“Coming to this stage of the season everybody’s fighting for something, even though we’re safe from the bottom half we’re focusing on finishing as high as possible.
“We’re still in ninth position, a win at the weekend and results going for us would see us go eighth. We know it’s going to be tough, there are some good teams around us, but with the group of players we’ve got, we’ll keep fighting.”
With their FA Cup exit effectively ending their season, the Black Cats can still play a part in the final destination of the Premier League title, with current leaders Manchester United visiting the Stadium of Light on the final game of the season – something that Bardsley, as a former United player, is relishing.
“It’s been a long old season, there are still four vital games to go and the way the league’s going it could be Manchester United coming to our place needing to win, and us needing to win to get eighth place,” Bardsley said.
“I would enjoy that, yeah.
Manchester United have won the title a number of times and City have been right on their tail all the season and vice versa, it’s nice to see it go right to the wire and entertaining for the neutrals.”
Saturday’s opponents have been dragged back into the relegation battle after Wigan Athletic won at Arsenal on Monday, and Bardsley – who spent five months on loan at Villa Park in 2007, under O’Neill – said: “Villa are not out of it yet.
“They’re on 35 points, Wigan have picked up two outstanding results when most thought they were dead and buried.
“The title race will go right to the wire, but the relegation one will too. We’ve got two teams in the next few weeks in Bolton and Villa who are there and thereabouts, we’re looking forward to the games and hopefully we can start scoring a few goals “We’re not really bothered about them, to be honest, it’s about us and where we want to finish, the targets we have set and hopefully we can accomplish them.”
“Am I surprised to see Villa down there? I haven’t seen enough of them to judge. People always say the table doesn’t lie so they can’t have been that great, can they?
“It’s up to us to go there and keep the pressure on them, hopefully we can do that.
“We’ve done alright there in recent seasons, I got the winner last year, hopefully I can notch again there which would be nice.”