CRAIG Gardner believes Martin O’Neill has pulled off a coup in landing free agent Louis Saha.
New signing Saha made his Sunderland debut in last weekend’s opening day draw with Arsenal and looked sharp in his 30 minute run-out from the substitute’s bench.
The former Manchester United frontman only penned a one-year contract at the Stadium of Light last Thursday, completing just two days of training with his new team-mates before making his Sunderland bow.
But midfielder Gardner says the pedigree and experience of two-time Premier League winner Saha (right) is already evident after the 34-year-old was released by Spurs in the summer.
Gardner told the Echo: “When Louis came on, I thought he was unbelievable. He held the ball up, was strong and that’s what we needed.
“Even in the changing room, it helps when you see someone who has been at Man U and he’s a top class player and top class person.
“He talks to you, tells you and encourages you and that’s what you need. If we can get a few more players in, to go with his experience, that would be great.”
The arrival of Saha saw O’Neill’s summer-long hunt for attacking reinforcements finally reach fruition, although the Sunderland boss remains keen to add another frontman before the August 31 transfer deadline.
Wolves hitman Steven Fletcher is still the principal target despite Sunderland seeing a bid of around £13million rejected for the 25-year-old.
But Gardner, who came through the ranks under O’Neill at Aston Villa, says there should be no doubting the Sunderland boss in his attempts to bolster the squad.
“I’ve worked with the gaffer before and he’s not a genius for no reason,” said the 25-year-old. “He’s not forced to buy players. He hasn’t won medals and been as successful as he, is by rushing in and people telling him what to do. He decides what needs to be done and that’s what makes him so good.”
O’Neill would ideally like to further boost his squad before Saturday’s Stadium of Light opener against newly-promoted Reading, although he will have a further six days to act before the transfer window slams shut.
But Sunderland at least head into their first home game in buoyant mood after shrugging off their flat pre-season to clam a point at Arsenal.
Gardner added: “We’ve got the taste now and got the fight back in the belly. We’re at home on Saturday and the fans will be buzzing because of the result at Arsenal.
“There’s exciting things to come at Sunderland, I’m telling you.
“In the league, last Saturday was a massive point. When you look back at the end of the season and see you’ve got a point at Arsenal, it’s a big one.
“The lads were absolutely unbelievable and were a credit to everybody.
“We worked our socks off in pre-season. The results weren’t important, it was all about getting the work into the boots and we did that.”
“You know what you’ll get with Reading. A well-worked, well-drilled team. But it’s an advantage to us being at home.”