Unlikely goal hero Phil Bardsley is backing Sunderland to maintain their charge for Europe in the most unpredictable of seasons. Sunderland's hopes of completing a famous Premier League double over reigning champions Chelsea on Tuesday night were dashed despite the 25-year-old full-back's stunning fourth-minute opener.
Carlo Ancelotti's men hit back in devastating style to run out 4-2 winners at the Stadium of Light and avenge their 3-0 home defeat in November, a result which confirmed the Wearsiders as genuine contenders for a top-six finish.
Even after Tuesday's reverse, they remain firmly in the hunt, and while Bardsley admits the capacity of football to constantly surprise and shock means anything could happen between now and the end of the season, he is confident they can stay there.
Scotland international Bardsley said: "Things happen in football. If you just look at the transfer window on Monday night, that just says everything about football. You never know what's going to happen, and that's the enjoyable thing, that's why everyone loves it. I am enjoying my football, enjoying being at this football club.
"We have a great bunch of lads, a top manager, the coaching staff, everybody around the place enjoys being part of each other, and if we show that attitude and togetherness, we have got a hell of a chance to go forward."
Chelsea succeeded on Wearside where Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United before them had failed, to become just the second team this season after Blackpool to win a league game at the Stadium of Light.
But they had to come from behind to do so on an evening when the impending introduction of Brazilian defender David Luiz, rather than that of striker Fernando Torres, looked to be the main reason for the visitors' £75m deadline-day spending spree.
Bardsley lit the blue touch-paper of a pulsating first half with just four minutes gone when he took advantage of some less-than-committed defending to make his way forward from halfway unchallenged before cutting inside Jon Obi Mikel and sending a swerving, dipping shot past a stunned Petr Cech.
It was just his second league goal for the club and came within weeks of his first, a winner at Aston Villa last month, although he was at a loss to account for his new-found potency.
Bardsley said: "In the last three years, I have had my fair share of shots that have gone here, there and everywhere, but in the last few weeks... It must be those Weetabix that have helped me hit the back of the net – and hopefully there are more to come."
Sadly for Sunderland, Bardsley's strike simply served to galvanise Chelsea, and Frank Lampard's 15th-minute penalty, awarded for Ahmed Elmohamady's ill-judged challenge on Ashley Cole, and a neat finish by Salomon Kalou eight minutes later, looked to have restored order.
But still the Black Cats refused to capitulate and Kieran Richardson's 27th-minute free-kick pegged Ancelotti's men back, although it owed as much to the flimsiness of Cech's defensive wall as to the midfielder's shot.
Branislav Ivanovic hit the bar from close range before the break, and he and his team-mates assumed control after it to pepper Craig Gordon's goal with Kalou seeing one particular effort hit both posts before running to safety.
By that point, captain John Terry had restored the advantage with a close-range finish on the hour, and the impressive Nicolas Anelka, whose withdrawn position behind Didier Drogba and Kalou perhaps represented a hint as to his future role, made sure in injury time.
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce said: "Imagine when they put Torres in there as well, how formidable they are going to be. It's mouth-watering."Reuse content