CRAIG Gardner is happy to shelve his midfield ambitions and get stuck into the right-back role to help power Sunderland’s top eight ambitions.
During the close season Gardner re-stated his desire to get among the goals again from his favoured position in the midfield engine room, but has spent the first few weeks of the season playing on the right of defence due to Phil Bardsley’s injury.
Far from being disenchanted, Gardner insists he is delighted simply to be in the team – and has absolutely no complaints about filling in for the former Manchester United man.
Indeed Gardner – who battled homesickness last season – says he is delighted to be part of the Martin O’Neill revolution after “snapping out” of the funk that left his Sunderland career in stall mode 12 months ago.
“Sunderland now reminds me of being at Villa when we were strengthening,” he said.
“You sit there and you see Ashley Young, James Milner, John Carew and you think flippin’ hell, these are good players. You think ‘I’m involved in this’. That’s what we want to do, we want to finish high in the league.
“The fans deserve it. Sunderland have had a yo-yo period but the gaffer is not a yo-yo manager. He wants to finish in the top six, the top eight every season and we can do that here.”
Shelving his own personal ambitions for the greater good is certainly something that Gardner is prepared to do.
He has played well in Sunderland’s opening couple of Premier Leagues games and feels he is getting more and more comfortable in a right-back slot that has come easier than he first anticipated.
As for his stated desire to play in the centre of midfield, he feels it would be churlish of him to complain about where he’s playing when fans are spending money to see him play.
“Full-backs get a lot of the ball now, so playing right-back I’m going to see a lot of it,” he said.
“If you’re comfortable on the ball I think right-back is a comfortable position – unless you come up against wingers who are willing to run at you all the time.
“I’ve had that in the last two games and without sounding big-headed, I think that I’ve been comfortable with that.
“I don’t mind where I play. That’s the attitude that I’ve got and that’s the attitude that most players should have really. As long as you’re in the starting XI you should be happy with that. That’s the squad we’ve got now.
“We want to win, we want to win for the fans because they turn out for us every week and why should we moan about playing in a different position when they pay their money to watch us play?
“The lads are brilliant in the changing room, the spirits are high and we can’t wait to get going again.”
The Black Cats welcome Liverpool on Saturday in a game that is – remarkably – their first home Premier League game of the campaign.
The Reds arrive in poor form and are still searching for their maiden win of the campaign, but Gardner argues that it would be folly to take them lightly.
He said: “I don’t know whether it’s a good time to play them. I don’t think there’s a good time to play anyone, you’ve got to turn up yourself.
“We certainly turned up against Swansea and Arsenal but if Liverpool do the same to us, it’s going to be a tough game.
“I think with home advantage, we’ve got a chance because the supporters will turn up in numbers and that will be an advantage.”
Meanwhile, Adam Johnson took to his Twitter account last night to declare that he will be fit to face Liverpool.