MART IS A REAL SMART DEALER Gard­ner backs Sun­der­land boss to land top tar­gets

Midweek Sport - - THURSDAY AUGUST 23 - By FRANK MCCAULEY

CRAIG GARD­NER has to­tal faith in Martin O’Neill as the Sun­der­land boss tries to land his big tar­gets in a tense con­clu­sion to the sum­mer trans­fer win­dow.

The Black Cats have so far added only free agent Car­los Cuel­lar and 34-year-old striker Louis Saha to their squad since the end of last sea­son.

But amid a whirl­wind of spec­u­la­tion over who might end up at the Sta­dium of Light, and with O’Neill in­sist­ing he is ready to launch a late flurry of ac­tiv­ity, Gard­ner is con­fi­dent his for­mer As­ton Villa man­ager will get the men he wants.

The mid­fielder

said:

“I’ve worked with the gaffer be­fore and he’s not a ge­nius for no rea­son.

“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, with the back­ing of Sun­der­land owner and chair­man El­lis Short, has made a num­ber of ap­proaches for big-name play­ers.

But while some progress has been made, the Ul­ster­man is still await­ing de­ci­sive break­throughs on sev­eral fronts.

His pur­suit of Wolves striker Steven Fletcher has been well doc­u­mented, with the Black Coun­try club hold­ing out for the best price pos­si­ble.

Tar­gets

Sun­der­land are un­der­stood to have of­fered a deal amount­ing to £13mil­lion, which is yet to be ac­cepted.

But there is a grow­ing feel­ing on Wear­side that a deal could be done be­fore the end of the month.

O’Neill’s in­ter­est in Manch­ester City winger Adam John­son is gen­uine and on­go­ing but, while the Eng­land in­ter­na­tional has north-east roots, Sun­der­land face com­pe­ti­tion from clubs with higher pro­files.

O’Neill has back-up plans as well as ad­di­tional tar­gets in other ar­eas of the field and has been linked with a grow­ing num­ber of play­ers.

Some re­ports have the Black Cats boss chas­ing a long list of names – some more re­al­is­tic than oth­ers – which ex­tends into dou­ble fig­ures.

But there is lit­tle doubt that his main fo­cus, as it has been all sum­mer, re­mains on at­tack­ing re­cruits fol­low­ing the loss of Asamoah Gyan and Nick­las Bendt­ner from an al­ready de­pleted ar­moury.

Fletcher and John­son would cer­tainly fit the bill – and while the dream sce­nario would see both arrive, there is ground still to be cov­ered and a suc­ces­sion of ob­sta­cles in O’Neill’s path.

Gard­ner is con­vinced that O’Neill has al­ready suc­ceeded in strength­en­ing his hand in the strik­ing depart­ment with the cap­ture of Saha, who made his Premier League de­but for Sun­der­land as a sub­sti­tute in Satur­day’s 0-0 draw at Ar­se­nal, on a one-year deal.

Strong

“When Louis came on, I thought he was un­be­liev­able,” said Gard­ner.

“He held the ball up, he was strong and that’s what we needed.

“Even in the chang­ing room, it helps when you see some­one who has been at Manch­ester United.

“He’s player 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.”

a and top-class top-class

SUN LOVER: Gard­ner

has faith in O’Neill

TAR­GET MAN: O’Neill won’t back off un­til he’s signed Fletcher IN THE BAG: Cuel­lar has been snapped

up by O’Neill

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