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Gardner’s better in midfield – O’Neill
MARTIN O’NEILL insists Craig Gardner’s best role is still as a goalscoring midfielder despite his ability to perform at the highest level as a Sunderland defender.
Gardner was the pick of the Black Cats players against Liverpool on Saturday when his marauding run and cross led to Steven Fletcher’s third goal for the club.
His willingness to join in with the attacks and support the right winger has been evident in each of Sunderland’s opening four matches of the season in the absence of Phil Bardsley.
Bardsley has returned to full training and his nearing a first team comeback, which would certainly give the manager an interesting poser following the high standard of Gardner’s displays.
However, despite being similarly won over by the 25-yearold’s performances on the right, O’Neill admits that Sunderland are missing out on his forward-thinking through the middle as a result of him filling in at the back.
“Craig’s acquitted himself pretty well there and he doesn’t mind where he plays,” said O’Neill. “Overall, he can play in both positions. He’s improved as a full-back, he tried to read it well, he did very well with that, but he’s essentially a midfield player.
“We’re trying to stall him until Bardsley gets back. It’s true that goals are a principal part of his game, that’s exactly right. Absolutely.
“That’s the part you forfeit with him playing so far back.
Midfield, you always feel like he’s going to get on the end of something. He’s got a great strike on him. I agree with you, that’s the part you miss out.”
Gardner found it difficult to settle on Wearside after his £6m switch from Birmingham City 14 months ago. It seemed inevitable that he would move back to the Midlands area in the summer, where West Brom were among those keen.
However, after no concrete deal emerged, Gardner has remained part of the Sunderland squad and seems to be enjoying his football again in the North-East, which has been noted by the supporters.
Now that he seems happier than at any other stage of his Sunderland career then he is likely to be a more dangerous midfielder who would be capable of adding to the three Premier League goals he has scored for the club.
He would provide an alternative to Stephane Sessegnon behind the striker and would be a further option in the middle of midfield along with Seb Larsson, Lee Cattermole and Jack Colback.
O’Neill is looking forward to having a full week to work with his squad in the build up to Saturday’s trip to West Ham United.
Since signing Adam Johnson , Steven Fletcher and Danny Rose, the Sunderland boss has had to make do with days here and there because of international duty.
This will be the first full week he has been able to work with them all together, although he is having to treat Johnson carefully because of the thigh injury which prevented him from facing Liverpool.
“I think it will be good to have them together because players have been coming in, in drips and drabs,” said O’Neill. “The first time we had all of the boys in together was Thursday. This week will be good even if it’s just for a week or two.
“We’ll be able to sit down and have a chat about things and see how they feel about things because that’s going to be the most important thing.”
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