CRAIG Gardner believes a third cup goal of the season will hand James McClean the perfect tonic to his Twitter troubles.
McClean secured a last 16 tie against neighbours Middlesbrough when he handed Sunderland an unassailable two-goal lead in Tuesday’s Capital One Cup clash at MK Dons after previously bagging a brace in the second round victory over Morecambe.
It has not been an easy start to the campaign for the Republic of Ireland winger, with a pocket of sceptics still questioning whether he can continue to shine when targeted for closer attention.
McClean has also had his problems off-the-field after being forced to issue a grovelling apology to Giovanni Trapattoni following his Twitter tirade against the Ireland boss at the end of their World Cup qualifying victory in Kazakhstan earlier this month.
But right-back Gardner says McClean’s attitude has not dimmed and the goal at stadium:mk will provide a timely confidence boost for the 23-year-old.
Gardner told the Echo: “James has been brilliant and I’m glad for him.
“He’s had a hard last two weeks with all the stuff that’s gone on. But he’s got his head down and he works his socks off every game.
“He got his rewards with a superb goal on Tuesday night.”
The makeshift right-back added: “Listen, there’s no doubting James’ ability. He’s a top class player.
“He burst onto the scene last year and he’s done the same this time around with three goals.”
Gardner hopes victory in the Capital One Cup will be the springboard for a first Premier League victory of the campaign for Sunderland tomorrow.
Sunderland host a Wigan side, who have tasted defeat in their last league two games, and although Gardner is under no illusions about the threat posed from Roberto Martinez’s side, he is confident the Black Cats can break their duck.
The 25-year-old added: “It was a brilliant boost for us on Tuesday, we needed that win going into tomorrow’s game. It means we’re still unbeaten for the season.
“We’ve got Wigan at home so we’ll hopefully get the three points. Of course it’s an opportunity to get that win, but then that applies to every game.
“Wigan can grind out results and they’re a good team. We’ve got to respect them when they come to the Stadium of Light, but hopefully we can get the three points.”