Sunderland defender is an inspiration

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CRAIG GARDNER admits he couldn’t envisage making a comeback after 18 months on the sidelines, let alone if he was in his 30s.

The return to fitness of centre-half Wes Brown has been one of the big plus points of Sunderland’s pre-season campaign after the former England international’s career looked to be over.

Brown’s last competitive appearance for Sunderland came in January 2012, with last season marked by a succession of injury setbacks for the 33-year-old.

But Brown has so far come through Sunderland’s pre-season unscathed – completing every training session under Paolo Di Canio and featuring in all four of the Black Cats’ friendlies.

Team-mate Gardner is hopeful that Brown can maintain that level of fitness, but says he has been taken aback by the hunger of the former Manchester United man to continue playing.

Gardner told the Echo: “Wes has done unbelievable during pre-season.

“I’m 26 now and I can’t imagine how tough it is to get back out there after being out for so long.

“The hunger he’s got is unbelievable and every day he’s had a smile on his face.

“After the injuries he’s had, it’s a credit to him for getting back and I just hope that he can stay fit now and play for us.”

Makeshift right-back Gardner lined up alongside Brown in defence during Sunderland’s participation in the Barclays Asia Trophy, in Hong Kong, last week.

And even though Sunderland have brought in eight new players so far this summer, Gardner says Brown’s return has to be considered as an added bonus to that tally.

“The new boys all look good, they’ve settled down really well,” added Gardner.

“But I thought Wes was superb in Hong Kong and he’s like a new signing for us.

“That’s got to be a big boost for the manager and let’s just hope he stays like that.”