Sunderland’s Gardner won’t shirk from penalty pressure

Craig Gardner scores from the penalty spot against Fulham.
Craig Gardner scores from the penalty spot against Fulham.
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CRAIG Gardner has total faith in his role as Sunderland’s penalty-taker after emphatically proving his nerve from the spot.

Right-back Gardner netted his third penalty in six games in Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Fulham, to take his goal tally for the season to seven.

It was the sternest test yet of Gardner’s temperament from 12 yards after the 26-year-old conceded the spot-kick which handed Fulham the lead – the second time he has been penalised in the box in as many games.

But Gardner rocketed the ball home and insists he never harboured any qualms about passing on his role as Sunderland’s designated penalty taker.

Gardner told the Echo: “I gave away a penalty against West Brom which I thought was unlucky and then one against Fulham when I barely touched the lad and he went down a bit too easily.

“But we won a penalty ourselves on Saturday and some players might have bottled it, but not me – I like to face up to things.

“I took it and buried it. That shows what I am about – I don’t hide. When I first went to Birmingham, Seb (Larsson) was the penalty-taker.

“But then he missed one and I took over – and I didn’t miss any.

“And, to be honest, I fancy myself against any keeper in the world from 12 yards!”

Only 10-goal top scorer Steven Fletcher has netted more goals for Sunderland this season than Gardner – no mean feat considering the ex-Aston Villa midfielder has spent the bulk of the campaign at full-back.

And even though Gardner is likely to remain Martin O’Neill’s first-choice right-back for the remaining 10 games, he is still confident he can achieve his pre-season target of double figures.

“Seven is not a bad total from right-back!” he said. “I always set myself a target of 10 goals every season, no matter whether I am playing in midfield or at right-back, and hopefully I can still achieve that.”

As for the penalty he conceded, Gardner insists he made minimal contact with Fulham winger Ashkan Dejagah before the Iranian collapsed to the turf.

But he praised Sunderland’s doggedness in fighting back from two-goals down to secure a point which could feasibly have been three in the final 20 minutes.

Gardner added: “I was very disappointed to give away another penalty. I thought it was a soft one.

“If it had been the other way around, my friends and family would have battered me for going down!

“But he (Dejagah) won his team a penalty and that’s all there is to it. We showed the the fight and the character in the team.

“At 2-0 down at home we could have folded and the fans could have got on our backs, but that didn’t happen.

“We didn’t fold, the fans got right behind us, we came back and could have won it because we should have had two more penalties – and they were probably more blatant than the two that were given.”