Gary Gardner is absolutely adored by most of the Aston Villa faithful -- but is it more to do with the young midfielder's potential as a star or the fact that, unlike his brother, Craig, he didn't turn Bluenose and run off to Birmingham City? A product of the Villa academy, 19-year-old Gardner has been watched and drooled over for the past few years, with many fans aching to see his debut with the first team. But whilst Gardner, who regularly played the second half of the 2011-2012 season, showed that he's perfectly competent in central midfield, he hasn't yet demonstrated the brilliance Villa has been hoping for.Gardner did start off the 2011-2012 season with the first team, coming on as a substitute for captain Stiliyan Petrov in that horrific Asia Trophy match against Chelsea. But then Gards went back to the reserve side, which enabled him to play in the NexGen series -- if you didn't follow along with that tournament, be sure you do this season, as it was pretty fun to watch all the youngsters from all over Europe. Although Villa went out in the quarter-finals to Marseille, Gardner was the joint-second highest scorer in the competition, with six goals.
The Villa briefly lost Gardner this season, although for once not to injury, but rather to Coventry City. He came back after just four matches, however, as once again injury-pocalypse hit the squad. After a couple of appearances off the bench, Gardner had his first start in the win against Wolves in January. Alas it was not so much the greatness of his play as the loss of Petrov that kept Gardner in the squad for the remainder of the season.
Gards winded up starting just five games for the claret and blue this season, although I'm sure I'm not the only one to say it felt like a lot more. Didn't it seem like he was in for every match during 2012? He was a substitute nine times, but boy, I could've sworn he was always starting. Perhaps this is just another symptom of the tuning out most of us did at the end of the season.
Anyway, five league starts, nine league substitutions, and two appearances in the FA Cup. No goals scored Not a lot to go on, but the point of Gardner isn't so much is current performance as his future potential. And that future potential depends upon what we're hoping Gards will be. If we're dreaming of a box-to-box midfielder to finally replace the gaping hole James Milner tore out of our squad, this youngster isn't that person. But if we're seeking a suitable replacement for Stiliyan Petrov -- and by that I mean a man who can hold up play and protect the defence, not one who launches balls into the 50th row -- it's worth keeping Gardner around.
There are much greater holes to fill in this Aston Villa squad than that of a central midfielder, particularly a more defensively inclined one. Let's see what this Villa product can do under Paul Lambert, and cross our fingers that the new man in charge can help fulfill some of Gardner's potential.