Sunderland captain John O'Shea has praised the role of Phil Bardsley since the full-back returned to the side.
Under previous Black Cats manager Paolo Di Canio, Bardsley
was suspended by the club
last August following a number of off-field incidents.
Phil Bardsley's redemption
- May 2013 - dropped from Sunderland squad after being pictured at a casino in midweek
- August 2013 - suspended after allegedly mocking their opening-day defeat by Fulham on social media
- October 2013 - returns to side at Swansea away but scores an own-goal
- Has since started 14 of Sunderland's next 16 games
But he has been an ever-present since
Gus Poyet became Black Cats boss.
"Phil is a player we need to keep hold of. He's been brilliant and really has become the heart and soul of the club now," O'Shea told
The incident that led to Bardsley's enforced exile from Sunderland involved the 28-year-old allegedly mocking their
opening-day defeat by Fulham
on social media.
When Poyet brought him back into the first XI for
October's trip to Swansea,
the defender was treated to jeers by a large section of the club's supporters.
But on Tuesday night, he played a vital role in
Sunderland's 2-1 Capital One Cup victory over Manchester United,
while he is also the Black Cats' joint-top scorer with three goals.
"It has been a real turnaround from the Swansea game to now," said O'Shea, who
moved to the Stadium of Light in 2011.
"And before that, let's be honest he was probably only inches away from leaving the club.
"But it's great that he's come back in as we need to keep players that have been here a while.
"There's Phil and Jack Colback, then after that I think I'm the longest-serving player."