Sunderland’s Craig Gardner: no pain, no gain!

BATTLING ON ... Craig Gardner.
BATTLING ON ... Craig Gardner.
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CRAIG Gardner insists Sunderland’s walking wounded will play through the pain tonight to fire the Black Cats to Wembley.

Sunderland face their fourth game in 11 days tonight when they bid to secure an FA Cup final four spot by prevailing against Everton in the quarter-final replay.

While defenders John O’Shea and Kieran Richardson are the only players ruled out of the Stadium of Light clash, Sunderland have several key concerns, even though skipper Lee Cattermole is available again after a four-match ban.

Phil Bardsley, who had been suffering from bruised ribs, missed Saturday’s victory over QPR through illness. Wayne Bridge hobbled off with 15 minutes to go and Seb Larsson was given a much-needed breather after looking jaded in the defeat at Blackburn four days earlier.

But midfielder Gardner says both the rewards on offer to the winners, plus Sunderland’s forward momentum under Martin O’Neill, provides sufficient motivation to ignore any niggling worries.

Gardner said: “We’ve got a few injuries, but if there’s any chance players can get back in the team and put their body on the line, they will.

“Nobody wants to sit this one out. If they’re 90 per cent fit, they’ll be there.

“We’ve played a lot of games in a short amount of time, but it was nice to put in a performance in front of our fans on Saturday going into tonight’s game.

“We did really well and credit to the team for bouncing back from the Blackburn game.

“We’ve moved up to eighth now, two points behind Liverpool and we’ve got an FA Cup quarter-final with a place at Wembley at stake.”

Sunderland head into tonight’s game in encouraging form in front of goal after firing three past QPR.

The Black Cats had only managed four in their five outings prior to the weekend and Gardner knows Martin O’Neill’s side must make the most of their opportunities tonight against a defensively resolute Everton side.

“Everton are a top side, we all know that,” added the 25-year-old, who almost notched his fourth of the season when his free-kick cannoned against the bar. “But we’ve got the players in the team to score a few goals and it showed on Saturday. It could have been four, five or six.

“Three or four times this season, we’ve scored a few and it was a great result from the lads. Nicklas (Bendtner) took his goal well. He worked hard all game, held the ball up well and he’s dangerous when he’s in the box. It was a great ball in from James (McClean) and a great finish.

“I thought I had scored from the free-kick. I thought it was in when I hit it.

“But the second goal was a good one by James and the ball for the third goal from Vaughany (David Vaughan) was top class for Sess (Stephane Sessegnon).”