PHIL BARDSLEY admits morale in the Sunderland camp was “beyond dead” before Gus Poyet’s arrival as Black Cats boss.
But the rejuvenated defender says Poyet’s transformation of Sunderland has left the squad in no doubt that they can now beat the drop.
Last weekend’s victory at Fulham lifted Sunderland off the Premier League’s basement, with only one point now separating the Wearsiders from fourth bottom West Ham and a modest six points from 10th placed Hull City.
That is a far cry from the situation Poyet inherited, with Sunderland boasting just a solitary point from the opening seven games and confidence among the players at rock-bottom after the reign of ex-head coach Paolo Di Canio.
Bardsley, who was handed his first-team return under Poyet, said: “You’ve got to have a very good team spirit. I think that was beyond dead six months ago.
“Now we’ve dug it out. The manager came in and gave the players a new lease of life and everyone is taking their opportunity.
“That’s what you need week-in, week-out because there’s decent competition at the club.
“When I came in, the team only had one point, but now we’re on the way to getting out of it.”
When asked whether Sunderland could now avoid relegation, Bardsley added: “Absolutely, we believe we can do it .
“We’re in our own mini-league and if we win on Saturday against Southampton, we’re three points behind Hull in 10th.
“That’s unbelievable when you look back three or four weeks ago.
“We need to just focus on ourselves and win as many games as possible.”
Bardsley has played a key part in Sunderland’s revival, with the full-back one of the most consistent performers under Poyet after being frozen out by Di Canio and forced to train with the club’s Under-21s.
But after being handed an olive branch by Poyet, Bardsley says he has been keen to repay the faith shown by the former Brighton manager.
“As everyone knows, it was a difficult summer, especially playing in the U21s,” added the 28-year-old.
“It was probably one of the lowest points of my career, to be honest with you.
“But when the manager called me back into the squad, I knew I had more to offer this football club.
“I’m thankful for the opportunity he gave me and I thought I had to repay him with performances. Hopefully I’m doing that.
“He’s been a massive factor for me.
“They say you never judge a book by its cover and I’d never met him before. He could have taken his opinion from what he’d heard.
“But he didn’t do that. He pulled me in, we had a chat and he was brilliant.
“The Swansea game (Bardsley’s first match back) was quite difficult obviously, but after that, I got my feet back under the table and I enjoyed playing again. That was the most important thing.
“The performances you have to put in at this level need to be high to get somewhere and I think I’m slowly doing that.”