CRAIG Gardner believes his summer move to Sunderland will give him the opportunity to rekindle his European ambitions.
The midfielder was a member of the Aston Villa side which finished sixth in the Premier League under Martin O’Neill in 2008 and 2009.
That saw the Villans qualify for the Uefa Cup in 2008-09 and its successor the Europa League the following year.
Gardner played in both those European campaigns before switching to Villa’s city rivals Birmingham 18 months ago.
But in the wake of the Blues’ relegation last season, he joined Sunderland in a £5m deal last month.
And he reckons that the Black Cats’ newly-strengthened side is capable of following in Villa’s footsteps and mounting a successful European challenge of their own.
He said: “Villa finished sixth when I was there and this is a great squad. We’ve got pace in the side, a good mix of youth and experience, especially with Wes [Brown] and John [O’Shea] bringing their experience from Manchester United.
“We’ve got to gel but we know what we want to achieve. I’ve been told what we want to achieve and that is what we all want.
“We want to finish as high as we can, we want to qualify for Europe.
“We want to go out there expecting to win every week, not hoping we can get a draw and avoid defeat.
“If we win here, there will be a good feeling about the place, the town, that is what we want to do.
“If we get a good run going, we want that momentum to build.”
Gardner is one of nine new signings, with O’Shea, Brown, Keiren Westwood, Connor Wickham, Ji Dong-Won, Seb Larsson, David Vaughan all joining. while Ahmed Elmohamady’s loan deal was converted into a permanent deal.
Only Gardner and Elmohamady were involved in Sunderland’s opening pre-season friendly at York on Wednesday night, but the other seven were all included in the squad for Sunderland’s tour of Germany.
That tour gets underway with a game against Third Division side Arminia Bielefeld tomorrow.
Gardner said: “Getting all the players early helps, it has given us the chance to gel.
“It’s all right bringing so many in, but it might have been a problem if they were coming in a few days before the season starts.
“It normally takes three or four games to gel, but we can do that in pre-season hopefully.
“If you leave it until late to bring in new signings, you might be down near the bottom of the league after three or four games.
“We’ve brought them early, we’ve got a chance to get to know each other over the next three or four weeks.”
“We’re going to Germany which will be a good trip. That will be a bonding exercise for all of us.”
Sunderland boss Steve Bruce has brought Gardner in to address last season’s dearth of goals from midfield.
The 24-year-old scored 10 times for the Blues last term, and he has set his sights on reaching double figures once again this season.
“I know it’s a lot but I set my sights high,” he said. “I managed it last season and I missed a few games because of injury and suspension so I don’t see why I can’t do it again.
“I could have got more last season and I’d like to get more this season.
“If I’m 20 yards out and I get a sight of goal, I will pull the trigger.”
Meanwhile, young Sunderland striker Liam Noble has rejoined Carlisle on loan until January.
The 20-year-old spent the second half of last season on loan at Brunton Park, making 18 starts, scoring three goals and helping the Cumbrians win the Johnstone’s Pain Trophy in April.
Sunderland boss Steve Bruce said: “Liam gained valuable experience at Carlisle last season including an appearance at Wembley. We will continue to monitor Liam’s development and wish him all the best.”
:: A SUNDERLAND XI take on Consett at the Northern League side’s Belle Vue ground in a friendly today at 3pm. Prices are £5 for adults, £3 concessions and under-5s get in free.