CRAIG GARDNER is confident Sunderland’s fringe players will be in shape if Paolo Di Canio shuffles his pack tonight.
Head coach Di Canio could introduce fresh legs for Sunderland’s Capital One Cup second round clash against Mk Dons, with the tie sandwiched by long trips to Southampton and Crystal Palace.
Summer signings David Moberg Karlsson, El-Hadji Ba and Vito Mannone could all be handed their Sunderland debuts, while last week’s arrival Charis Mavrias may be involved, albeit the Greek winger has enjoyed little pre-season work.
The likes of Carlos Cuellar and David Vaughan are also in contention, even though Di Canio has warned his changes are not likely to stretch to half-a-dozen.
But Gardner, absent himself for the opening day of the season due to suspension, insist fitness won’t be a problem for those involved, due to Di Canio’s exhaustive training regime.
“Everyone is raring to go and in tip-top condition,” Gardner told the Echo.
“Everybody is fit, whatever team the manager decides to pick.
“No way are we going to take our foot off the gas.
“We’ll go out tonight and try to be on the front foot early doors and get the win.”
Gardner scored a stunning free-kick in last season’s third round victory at MK Dons after Sunderland recovered from the dismissal of Lee Cattermole to advance in the competition.
But despite what was ultimately a comfortable victory 12 months ago, Gardner remains wary of Karl Robinson’s side, who lie 10th in League One after Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Bristol City.
Gardner is keen for Sunderland to get a first win of the season though - even if it comes in the Capital One Cup - after being denied three points at the death at Southampton on Saturday.
“We played MK Dons last year when we went down to 10 men and beat them 2-0,” added the 26-year-old.
“They’re a good team and they’ve got a very good manager.
“We’re due a cup run and the fans deserve one because they follow us everywhere.
“The lads are eager to get back out there after conceding in the 88th minute on Saturday.
“We nearly got the result – one point instead of three – but we can look onwards and upwards now.”