After watching the outstanding performance of the midfield trio of Delph, Cleverley, and Westwood in the semi-final against Liverpool, Aston Villa fans will be feeling pretty confident in their midfield. But, as we’ve recently seen with the injury curse that has devastated Villa’s defense, injuries can quickly deplete a position; depth is never a bad thing. In addition, Tom Cleverley’s future is still up in the air. While it seems that most Villa fans would like to seem him back (at least at the right price), if he does move on, Villa might not have to look far for a replacement.
After being loaned over the winter period, Gary Gardner has been turning heads with his performances at Nottingham Forest. In the past few months at Forest, he’s put in a number of solid shifts and become a regular in Dougie Freedman’s side. In 17 appearances for Forest, he's contributed one assist and four goals, and developed into a key player for the Championship side.
It's easy to forget that Gardner is still only 22 (he'll turn 23 in the summer). It seems like he's been here forever - every summer, fans (myself included) are convinced that the next year would be the year he finally fulfills his promise. But for one reason or another, it just hasn’t happened for Gardner. However, he certainly cannot be labeled as a bust just yet. After signing a two-year contract at the end of last season, he spent the fall on loan having mixed success at a struggling Brighton & Hove Albion side. But the move to Forest has seemed to benefit both parties, as he has provided much needed solidarity in the center of the park.
In a recent interview with the Birmingham Mail, Gardner said he was excited to prove himself to the new manager. "When I am back there in training, it will be my chance to impress," said Gardner. "Tim Sherwood will not have seen much of me in training, because I have not been there.
After watching a number of consistent performances in the middle of the park, Forest fans are keen to hang on to Gardner, and Gardner has taken a liking to the club as well. Although a Villa fan and player, he said, "Forest have been fantastic to me. It is definitely the second team in my heart." He also noted that if it doesn't work out at Villa, Forest would be the first destination in his mind. But he hasn't given up on his future at Aston Villa, and he certainly won't be easily let go by Villa, as Tim Sherwood has kept careful watch over the youngster’s progress.
We’ve seen flashes of his ability before, but he has never been able to produce on a consistent basis. At Forest, it seems like Gardner has finally managed to put it all together, and if he can prove his new-found consistency at the Premier League level, he could be a special player. It will be interesting to see how he reacts with a full summer working with the new staff at Bodymoor Heath. If he impresses Sherwood and performs up to the level he has for Forest, the future could be bright for both him and Villa.