CRAIG GARDNER hopes his goal-scoring ability will guarantee him a first-team place in a competitive Sunderland midfield this season.
The 24-year-old was Birmingham City’s top scorer last term and hopes that that priceless ability to get goals from the centre of the park will give him the edge over his new team-mates when the new campaign begins.
David Vaughan, Lee Cattermole, Jack Colback, David Meyler, and Kieran Richardson are all vying with him for the two central midfield spots, while Steed Malbranque and Seb Larsson can also play there.
But new boy Gardner, who models his game on that of prolific Chelsea star Frank Lampard, scored more goals last season than Sunderland’s entire midfield put together and has promised to get among the goals again in the season ahead.
“Any time I get the chance, I will pull the trigger,” says Gardner, who will make his debut for the Black Cats against York City at Bootham Crescent in tonight’s first pre-season friendly (7.30pm kick-off).
“I’ve watched Frank Lampard a lot and that’s what he does – that’s why he has scored so many goals from midfield over the years.
“I know the manager here is looking for more goals from midfield, so hopefully I can continue the goalscoring form I showed last season at Birmingham and show the fans why I have been brought to the club.
“I’ve always scored a few goals.
“Without being big-headed, it is one of the best aspects of my game, but reaching double figures last season was my best season so far in that department.
“I scored 10, but even then I missed a few games through injury and suspension, so if I had played more matches I might have scored more!”
Gardner plans to use tonight’s game at York to put down an early marker for a place in the starting XI for the opening day game at Liverpool a month from today.
As well as goal-scoring ability, he has the same competitive instincts as Cattermole and plans to show manager Steve Bruce from the start that his £6million transfer fee was money wisely invested.
“I can’t wait to put the shirt on and get started now, so I’m looking forward to making my debut tonight,” he said.
“There are a lot of midfielders here, so competition will be fierce, but I’m confident I can break into the starting XI.
“I haven’t come here to sit on the bench. Sunderland have paid money for me and I have come here to play football.”
Gardner, one of nine new arrivals on Wearside this summer, wants to make a fresh start after an incredible season at Birmingham in which the club won the League Cup – their first significant silverware in almost 50 years – but suffered a final-day relegation.
The 24-year-old was his side’s driving force in that campaign and, as a boyhood Blues’ fan, was devastated by demotion, but says he is excited now about what the future holds.
“I had a good season last year but, because Birmingham were relegated, there was always a chance that a Premier League team would come in for me,” he said.
“Sunderland showed interest early on and that opened my eyes, because I know what a big club this is and how ambitious it is.
“Once I got to speak to Sunderland, the gaffer was brilliant and the chairman was brilliant – their ambitions matched mine and so there was only one decision I could make.
“The manager has brought in a lot of young British players, or players with Premier League experience, and that means you know what you are going to get.
“You know they will bring graft and they will give everything they have got.
“John O’Shea and Wes Brown are a case in point – at Manchester United they won every trophy going.
“They have so much experience and one of the things I’m most looking forward to is working with players of their calibre.”