CRAIG GARDNER insists Sunderland’s fringe players deserve an opportunity to impress, if granted a chance by Martin O’Neill over the Easter weekend.
Sunderland face the gruelling task of two games inside 48 hours as the Black Cats host fourth-placed Spurs on Saturday before heading to Everton on Bank Holiday Monday.
O’Neill may be forced to shuffle his pack to combat fatigue and has previously indicated that the likes of Ji Dong-won, Connor Wickham, David Meyler and Ahmed Elmohamady are due a run-out after being confined to the fringes during his reign.
The quartet have been regulars on the substitutes’ bench, yet have started just four times between them under O’Neill.
Gardner told the Echo: “They probably deserve a chance and the attitude of the likes of Meyler and Connor has been spot on. They come in every day and work hard.
“It’s not easy to play two games in a week, never mind two games in three days.
“But having said that, the whole Premiership’s doing it, so it’s a level playing field.”
Last week’s defeat in the FA Cup quarter-final replay against Everton left Sunderland with little of substance to play for in the remainder of the campaign, with the Black Cats safe from relegation fears yet 12 points adrift of Europa League-chasing neighbours Newcastle United.
But midfielder Gardner says Sunderland are determined to finish the season on a high, even if O’Neill’s side have not set themselves a points or position target.
The 25-year-old said: “We want to finish as high up the table as we can and give something back to the fans.
“We want to finish higher than last year and finish as close to Newcastle as possible, if not overtake them.
“We lost against Everton in the quarter-finals and we were gutted that we didn’t get the fans to Wembley.
“We’re not setting a target that we want to finish sixth or seventh or whatever, because, if you start losing games, you start worrying.
“We’ve just got to get as many points on the board and keep going.
“You can win games and be three points clear of the bottom half or lose a game and be two points adrift.
“It’s that tight and that’s the beauty of the Premier League.”
Spurs ended a five-game run without a Premier League win against Swansea last weekend, but face a Sunderland side in good spirits after becoming the first side to take anything from Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium this season.
Gardner added: “Tottenham are a class team. We went there early on in the season and lost 1-0.
“But they won’t be looking forward to coming to our place, no-one does at the moment.
“We won’t take anything away from them, though, they’re a top-class team and they showed that with the way they beat Swansea last Sunday.
“We’ve just got to work hard like we did against Man City and try to get those three points.”