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Fringe Benefits

When something's not right at a club, be it money or playing time, you can have a hissy-fit and hand in repeated transfer requests, or you can roll your sleeves up and work a bit harder. Refreshing words in the press yesterday from Anton Ferdinand, showed the sort of character Darr£n B£nt professed to be, but never was. Roker Report's David Boyle digs a little further...

Following on from a certain ex fan favourite's hasty departure from the North East to chase his dream of playing for the much fabled big club, with talented players and vociferous support yadda yadda I found it refreshing to stumble across an interview with a player that has his heart set on setting the record straight and earning his keep.

Anton Ferdinand is a man that has played his whole career in the shadow of a more successful and well known sibling in the same industry, with their careers often contrasting as total polar opposites. A product of the West Ham academy, Anton made 138 appearances for the Hammers in his five year spell with the club before joining the lads as part of the Roy Keane recruitment drive.

Ferdinand's fortunes appeared to have taken a turn for the worst under the guidance of new gaffer Steve Bruce, to the point where he was not assigned a squad number and a move to Fiorentina seemed imminent. Anton's Italian job fell through and it seemed as if his days at the Stadium of Light would be numbered.

You could have forgiven the lad for losing heart and desire given the state of affairs he found himself in, but Ferdinand appears to be made of tougher stuff and made the most of the injuries which crippled the Sunderland back line over the festive period. Ferdinand was a vital part of the back four which has seen six clean sheets in the nine games that he started.

It would be unfair to just suggest that Anton simply filled in for the missing men. Ferdinand put in some good solid performances where problems regarding concentration and making too many elementary errors seemed to have vanished from his game.

"The squad is stretched. It's up to fringe players like myself to prove their worth.

"When people come back [from injury] and I'm still playing, and playing well, then I'm not a fringe player."

Whilst Anton certainly deserves his plaudits this year for his commitment and attitude it would be unfair not to share the limelight with another player that has really stepped up to plate this season - Phil Bardsley.

Bardo was another victim of falling out of favour with the boss. Last season saw loan star Alan Hutton fill in impressively at the right back spot and opportunities for the "Scotsman" were fairly limited. With the arrival of another right back loanee in the shape of Nedum Onouha it appeared that Phil would have to be content with his role as a squad player or look elsewhere for first team action.

While most footballers would have been sunning themselves on a beach in some exotic corner of the globe during the off season awaiting a call from their agent with news of a move elsewhere Phil Bardsley was putting himself through the paces at a boxing gym in Manchester.

Phil's hard work paid off.

Much like Ferdinand, Bardsley was to benefit from both the injury crisis and Kieran Richardson's inconsistent form at left back. Playing in that unorthodox left back position Phil has excelled and put in eye catching performances that haven't gone un-noticed by both the gaffer and the Sunderland faithful. Bardsley received the ultimate reward when he rattled in a superb match winner in the recent away win at Villa Park, his first Premier League goal.

For me any Sunderland fan that feels alienated from the players following on from the Darren Bent fiasco need only look as far as both Ferdinand and Bardsley as just two examples of players that could easily have sat on the bench, gone through the motions in training waiting for a transfer out of the club. Instead they have knuckled down, worked hard, shown character and put in committed performances whilst wearing the colours we so proudly follow because of their love of the game - traits that are unfortunately rare in modern footballers where cash is king.

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