Gardner backs ex-Aston Villa team-mate Cuellar at Sunderland

Craig Gardner

Craig Gardner

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CRAIG GARDNER believes Carlos Cuellar’s previous stint under Martin O’Neill will see him hit the ground running at Sunderland.

Bosman arrival Cuellar is expected to return to the fold for tomorrow’s pre-season friendly with Swedish outfit Helsingborgs after a thigh injury ruled him out of last week’s clash against Hartlepool.

Midfielder Gardner spent 18 months alongside Cuellar at Aston Villa, where the duo both worked under O’Neill.

And Gardner says the Spaniard’s familiarity with O’Neill’s standards can help him settle at the Stadium of Light after he became Sunderland’s first summer signing last month.

Gardner told the Echo: “Carlos knows what the gaffer wants which is crucial and his drive and enthusiasm for the game is unbelievable.

“I was with Carlos for a couple of years at Villa. He’s a top lad – solid, strong and he’s a really nice lad to have around the place.

“He’s got a lot of experience from playing in Spain and at Villa. He always talks – you might not be able to understand him at times – but that’s what you need to keep you on your toes.”

Sunderland will face a stern test against the reigning Swedish champions tomorrow, with Helsingborgs midway through their domestic season and prevailing in their Champions League qualifier against Polish side Slask Wroclaw in midweek.

But Gardner is eager for Sunderland’s credentials to be scrutinised, with the Black Cats now at full strength following the return of their internationals.

“Now’s the time when we’re looking to really push on,” added the 25-year-old.

“We’ve got a game tomorrow and two next week and then the season starts. Every single run we do and game we play is all geared to Arsenal on the opening day.

“It’s no good playing just teams who are in pre-season as well because they get nothing out of it and you get nothing out of it.

“You need to test yourselves and that’s what we’ll do tomorrow.

“Obviously everyone is back now. The lads that played over the summer have come back looking sharp.

“When you’re a professional footballer, it only takes you a couple of days to get back into the rhythm and that’s been the case.

“Games like Hartlepool are big ones because they’re local, but they’re only friendlies and the most important thing is for everyone to come through unscathed.

“That was the case in Korea and in all three games we’ve finished the strongest team, which is a massive plus point.”