Sunderland boss ready for Gardner interest

21/12/2011 Premier League football. Queens Park Rangers v Sunderland.'Craig Gardner shoots.'Photo: Mark Leech.

21/12/2011 Premier League football. Queens Park Rangers v Sunderland.'Craig Gardner shoots.'Photo: Mark Leech.

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MARTIN O’Neill is bracing himself for inquiries in January for unsettled midfielder Craig Gardner, writes Graeme Anderson.

But he says he is working on convincing the goal-scoring midfielder that his long-term future lies on Wearside.

The Brummie has struggled with bouts of homesickness since moving to the North East this summer – a condition which has not been helped by his bit-part involvement in the campaign so far.

But he looked excellent when coming on as a substitute against Queens Park Rangers midweek and O’Neill knows he has a valuable commodity on his hands.

“Craig Gardner is capable of getting 10 goals a season from midfield for any Premier League side,” he said.

“I had him at Aston Villa and I know him well and I want him to stay here.

“I haven’t had any inquiries yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I got them because I’m very much aware of his quality.

“But I want him to stay here and hopefully, that’s what will happen.

“I know footballers are meant to be rough and tough, but homesickness can be a problem for players and it’s a case of helping them through it sometimes.

“Once you are through it, though, you’re invariably glad you stayed and I think Craig can do very well for us here.”

O’Neill allowed Gardner to leave Aston Villa for Birmingham City during his time at Villa Park, but is at pains to point out he still rates the 25-year-old.

He pointed out: “At the time he was being kept out of the side by England internationals – we had Stewart Downing, Gabby Agbonlahor and Ashley Young playing in midfield and Craig’s best position has never been that of a holding midfielder.

“But I’ve always been aware of what a good attacking midfielder he is.

“We saw that against QPR, when he came on and produced a great cameo display.

“The shot he had on goal was of the highest quality – it wasn’t just a straight-forward shot, it was a cleverly curled ball – and technically he’s capable of those shots.

“He’s a good player and I want to keep him at this club if at all possible.”