CRAIG Gardner’s homesick blues might just be easing with every successful minute played in Sunderland colours.
The Brummie’s £5million move to Wearside last summer did not work out well in the first half of the season – struggling to get games under a manager not wholly convinced that the midfielder could hack it in the white hot heat of North East football.
No wonder the 25-year-old longed for home pastures where he felt wanted and his name was first on the team sheet.
He has flourished under Martin O’Neill, though; been more involved in matches and, on Saturday, scored his second memorable goal of the month.
O’Neill, who turned down a loan bid from Birmingham City last week – with the player’s consent, is hoping Gardner is seeing his future more and more in the red and white stripes of Sunderland.
“It’s important it’s understood he’s not coming in every day saying he wants to leave – just every other day!” said the Black Cats boss mischievously.
“But it helps you settle when you’re playing more and scoring goals like the one he scored against Swansea.
“The crowd have supported Craig.
“He’s becoming a bit of a favourite, and I think that he knows they want him to stay, as we all do.
“There’s interest from other Premier League teams around the West Midlands area, but I wouldn’t want him to leave.
“He has shown willing in games under me.
“He has had a problem with homesickness, but it is England you know – and you can get from one place to another.
“So I’m hoping homesickness is something we can look at it in the month or two; or the next year; or the next decade!
“He’s been unlucky not to start more games, but it isn’t easy when the team is playing so well – Keiren Westwood’s in the same position, lost his place only through illness but has been unable to get back because of Simon Mignolet’s form.”
Gardner’s superb volley to seal all three points for Sunderland was matched by Stephane Sessegnon’s finesse in opening the scoring.
“They were two great goals,” enthused the manager.
“Sessegnon’s goal was a big goal at the time, coming on the back of Swansea having missed.
“And Craig’s goal, the moment he chested the ball down, I fancied him.
“The win takes us into the top half of the table and I’m pleased about that.
“But I’m more pleased about having three more points on the board because it’s more about points at this stage rather than places.”