CRAIG Gardner hopes he to keep his place in the starting 11 tomorrow so he can play his part in the Sunderland revival.
The central midfielder – a £5m signing from Birmingham in the close season – is convinced it’s only a matter of time before the Black Cats hit their stride this season.
And having made his first start of the season in last week’s 2-1 defeat to Chelsea, the 24-year-old hopes to keep his place for what he hopes will be a rousing day for Sunderland fans tomorrow.
“I waited for my chance and I got one last week against Chelsea, so I’m hoping I’ve done enough to stay in the side.
“It was a difficult game against them but we weren’t too bad in the opening and closing stages of the match – we managed to get a goal back late on and, who knows, if we’d got it half-an-hour earlier it might have give us the chance of getting something out of it.
“We have to remind ourselves though that we don’t face teams of the calibre of Chelsea every week.
“We’ve had a tough start with Liverpool away and Chelsea at home and the derby in our first four games but we’ve got to dig in and get through it – footballers do that all the time.”
Gardner is not unaware of the frustration and angst building up on the terraces after two points from four games and a Carling Cup exit to Championship opposition but he says that wave of negativity needs to become positive support.
“We know all about the expectations of the fans and how they aren’t happy with the draws but we aren’t either,” he pointed out.
“I’m glad though – and I think the other players are happy too – to have fans who are as demanding as they are in terms of wanting to win.
“I completely understand that and most players would rather have supporters who are passionate than who are not.
“We’re not happy that we haven’t won either but it will come and when it does come, we’ll be fine.”
“We don’t feel we are struggling.
“We feel we are doing well, playing well, we are just lacking a little with the goals.
“But we’ve had two draws away from home and a couple of difficult games at home, that’s the situation we’re facing.
“In the end though the quality comes out and if you look at the players we have here, we have quality in abundance and eventually it will come out.”
Stoke are likely to present a formidable opposition tomorrow but tough-tackling Gardner says he is up for the challenge – if selected.
“I love the games,” he said.
“And the great thing about the Premier League is that you have to learn to cope with all different styles of play.
“We know all about Stoke and have to look at stopping them doing what they do best, while looking to win every ball or every second ball and then use it well.”