CRAIG Gardner knows that his best chance of guaranteeing a regular place in Sunderland’s starting line-up this season lies in the goals standard.
The 24-year-old opened his account for Sunderland at the weekend when he notched the third goal in the Black Cats’ 4-0 mauling of Stoke City.
And with competition for places intense in the Wearsiders’ engine room, Gardner knows that it is his goals which could set him apart from his team-mates this season.
Manager Steve Bruce spent £5m on the former Birmingham City player on the strength of the 10 goals he scored for the relegated Blues, and Gardner acknowledged: “I have come here with a reputation for scoring goals and I am keen to keep that going.
“There is no doubt goals are a big part of what I do and I am also aware the club maybe has not scored a lot of goals from midfield in the past.
“Sunderland have put faith in me by paying a fair bit of money to sign me from Birmingham and I don’t want to let them down.
“That means producing on the pitch and scoring goals.”
Gardner’s performance was exactly that on Sunday, where his partnership with fellow new signing David Vaughan, pictured, really caught the eye.
“It all seemed to click into place,” said Gardner.
“I enjoy playing with David in the middle.
“He is good on the ball and keeps possession well.
“When I am playing with David there is a pretty good blend – we played together in the pre-season game at Darlington and I thought we did fairly well then.
“We seemed to know where each other was going to be and as central midfielders that is half the battle.”
Few players are more conscious than Gardner of how disappointed the fans were before the Stoke game put the smile back on their faces.
But he hopes that the weekend’s win will help convince the fans that manager Steve Bruce is very much on the right lines with his latest batch of squad restructuring.
“It was always going to take a little time,” said the midfielder.
“We have brought in a lot of new players this summer and it is never easy to hit the ground running.
“The fans are passionate and that is what you want.
“The gaffer has done an unbelievable job assembling the squad.
“He has brought the right people in and he is working really hard on the training ground to convey his vision of what he wants us to do.
“We know how frustrated the fans can get but hopefully they have now seen what we can do.
“If we can take anything out of the Stoke game into the Norwich game at Carrow Road on Monday, hopefully we will have a chance.”