CRAIG GARDNER insists Sunderland’s players must be willing to adapt to Paolo Di Canio’s changing strategy after a surprise first start of the season.
Gardner, suspended for the Black Cats’ Premier League opener against Fulham nine days ago, was thrust into his preferred central midfield role in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at St Mary’s after Di Canio opted to relegate summer signing Cabral to the bench.
The 26-year-old spent all of pre-season training and playing as a right-back after being forced to deputise in defence prior to the arrival of on-loan Trabzonspor man Ondrej Celustka.
Gardner returned to full-back when Sunderland reshuffled in the second half at St Mary’s, but was given a holding midfield remit by Di Canio at kick-off.
But, far from being flummoxed by his inclusion, Gardner says the Black Cats’ squad must adhere to Di Canio’s blueprint, if he opts to tinker with the side.
Gardner told the Echo: “It maybe takes a bit of getting used to going back into midfield.
“But I was told to do a job. I wasn’t told to bomb on and be attacking, like I normally am.
“I was told to keep the shape and I thought we did that well.
“I get paid to play football and the manager gets paid to pick the team. As long as I’m on the pitch, I really don’t care where I play.
“I wouldn’t say I was surprised to start.
“I’ve been working hard in training and I’ve always been there to help, even though I was suspended for the first game.
“I was running hard, training extra and keeping myself in tip-top condition.
“Hopefully now I’ll stay in the team, like everyone wants to stay in the team.
“It’s not being ‘ahead’ of anybody.
“The manager has to pick a team to get a result out of the game and we could have got three points.
“He was right and we need to stay like that.
“At the end of the day, we’re a team and we need every single individual.
“We’re working day in, day out on the training field and when each game comes, we’ve got a different tactical way to approach the game.”
Gardner was distraught that Sunderland’s hopes of recording a first victory of the campaign were scuppered with two minutes to go when Jose Fonte cancelled out Emanuele Giaccherini’s early header for the Black Cats.
But the former Birmingham City man believes that when Sunderland reflect on the result in several months time, a point at Southampton will seem a positive outcome.
“Southampton are a top-class team who have spent a lot of money in the window,” added Gardner.
“In Rickie Lambert, they’ve got an England striker as well now.
“To go there and be robbed of three points we’re very disappointed.
“But to nick a point, maybe in 10 or 15 games time we will think what a point that was.
“I think Southampton will be disappointed at not winning the game, so it shows something to go there and work well as a team.”