Aston Villa midfielder Craig Gardner last night urged manager Martin O’Neill to once again consider him his man for the vacant right-back position as the team prepare for the crunch Intertoto Cup clash with Odense BK tomorrow night at Villa Park as the Premier League club strives to secure European football this season.
The England Under-21 international is traditionally a midfield player but has played at right back before under O’Neill until that role was made Olof Mellberg’s for the remainder of the season during Villa’s last Premier League campaign which left them in sixth place and in the reckoning for the Intertoto competition.
Gardner, however, says now that Mellberg is gone, having joined Juventus at the end of last season, he is more than happy to step up to the plate once again and do his bit to ensure Villa enjoy a successful run in the Uefa Cup – should they get through the Intertoto campaign.
Gardner says Villa must not take their Danish Superliga opponents for granted after they proved a tough test out in Denmark holding Villa to a closely fought 2-2 draw six days ago after Villa’s own Great Dane, Martin Laursen, looked to have given Martin O’Neill’s men a second-half winner.
Gardner, who grew up at Villa and came through the club’s academy ranks, said: “I hope the manager knows that I will play right-back all night long and all season long for Villa if that is what he wants me to do. I just want to be playing and doing my best for the team this season. “We can’t mess this up now. We worked so hard all last season and we are so close to the Uefa Cup now and that is a competition I really feel we could go all the way in.”
Birmingham-born Gardner – whose younger brother is also being tipped for a bright future at the club – added: “Odense will be no mugs and we will give them plenty of respect at Villa Park. They came from behind against us twice in Denmark and so they won’t give up. We have always said that if we play to our strengths, we can cause any team problems.
We scored two goals away in Denmark and now we want to finish the tie off back home.”
The 21-year-old, who hails from Yardley, continued: “I want to play European football this season and so do the rest of the lads. We are all determined to get through the Uefa Cup and also determined to win it for the fans.”
*Sunderland boss Roy Keane has strengthened his goalkeeping corps by signing Republic of Ireland international Nick Colgan.
Colgan, who was released by Ipswich Town this summer, is a surprise acquisition as Keane already has Craig Gordon, Darren Ward and Marton Fulop on his books. But the 34-year-old has signed a one-year deal with Sunderland, who become Colgan’s 13th league club in England and Scotland following a move to Chelsea from Drogheda United in 1991.
“It’s a huge challenge I’m really looking forward to,” said Colgan. “I got the call from the gaffer and he gave me 24 hours to think about it, but I think it took me about 24 seconds to decide!
“He told me he wants to carry a good squad of goalkeepers and it’s my job to bring my experience to the other keepers and to add some pressure on them and keep them on their toes.”