Top eight is a great target for Craig Gardner

CRAIG Gardner is targeting the top-eight finish which will turn this into a "great" season for Sunderland.

CRAIG Gardner is targeting the top-eight finish which will turn this into a "great" season for Sunderland.

Craig Gardner

A 4-0 defeat at Everton saw the Black Cats slip out of the top half on Easter Monday but, with the middle of the table so tight, eighth is still within sight.

Before Liverpool’s game at Blackburn Rovers last night, just four points separated the eighth-placed Reds from Stoke City, a place below Sunderland in 12th.

Midfielder Gardner said: “We don’t have a target, we just want to finish as high as we can.

“Hopefully we can finish in the top eight and if we do that we have had a great season to finish there and get to the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.

“That is a really good season, but we need to get out there and put it right – starting on Saturday.”

When Martin O’Neill took over as manager in December, Sunderland were in the relegation zone.

They entertain Wolverhampton Wanderers at the weekend having lost a little of the momentum in their season.

Considering the quality of opposition, draws with Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur were good results and the performance at Eastlands particularly impressive.

However, being bookended by defeats to Everton, the first in an FA Cup quarter-final replay, casts their recent form in a less flattering light.

Gardner felt a hectic Easter period which saw Sunderland (like most other Premier League teams) play on Saturday and Monday had caught up with them.

“It (the Everton defeat) is hard to take to be honest,” he reflected. “We went to Man City and we got a great result there, although we should have won. We had a good result against Tottenham and if we had gained a result at Goodison it would have been a brilliant three games for us.

“It is difficult to play two games in three days.

“I am not making excuses, because both teams have done it and a lot of teams have done it, but fair play to Everton, they worked hard and did well and I would like to wish them all the best for Saturday (when they play Liverpool in the FA Cup semi-final) as well.

“It works both ways, they have had games on Saturday and Monday as well.

“We have five games left so we just need to win as many as we can between now and the end of the season.”

While the Black Cats are keen to move on from their joint highest defeat of the campaign, Gardner insists it will not be swept under the carpet at the Academy of Light this week.

He added: “It is unlike us to come away and lose like that. We are normally hard to beat.

“We have shown that against Manchester City and all season really, but we need to move on now and get three points on Saturday.

“We are not just going to draw a line under it, we need look at some points, watch the video and see what we can do better in different situations.

“However, we cannot dwell on it too long, because it is a defeat and when you are beaten you need to move on to the next game as quickly as possible.

“We need to bounce back quickly, we did that after the Everton defeat.

“I think everyone thought we would go to Man City and get a hiding, but we were 3-1 up with ten minutes to go.

“We have shown a number of times this season we can respond well to a bad defeat and we will try and do that again at the weekend.

“Wolves are not relegated yet, you never know what can happen and they will be fighting for every point, so we need to be on our game on Saturday.”

Meanwhile, Billy Knott’s loan at AFC Wimbledon has been extended until the end of the season.

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