IT remains to be seen if Gary Gardner’s longer-term future turns out to be at Oakwell, but the Barnsley loan midfield player is confident enough to predict one thing with a fair degree of certainty.
Namely, that if the Reds’ well-publicised ‘young and hungry’ squad do manage to stave off the threat of relegation from the Championship and secure their second-tier status for a third successive campaign, then it will be the making of them.
He may not turn 26 until the summer, but the Aston Villa player is conscious of his status as one of the elder statesmen in a fresh-faced Oakwell dressing room, with the Reds – average age 23 – possessing the youngest squad in the Championship.
Just as fellow loanee Matty James proved a sage old head in the engine room during the Reds’ at times bumpy ride during the second half of the season last term, so Gardner is entrusted with providing a steadying influence in the middle of the park 12 months on.
The signs, after an injury-disrupted start to his career in South Yorkshire, are starting to look positive with the Brummie believing that the youthful Reds have a bright future if they win their survival fight.
Gardner said: “There is a group of young lads in the dressing room and, hopefully, I can add a bit of experience to that. They are all willing to learn and that is the good thing about that.
“If we stay in the league this year, they will learn a lot from this and be able to push on next year and achieve a lot of good things.
“We have just got to purely concentrate on ourselves and get as many wins as possible and the table will sort itself out. There are a good few teams battling at the bottom of the table and if I think we concentrate as we are, we will be fine.”
As for his own future, Gardner is non-commital as it stands and is perhaps sensibly focusing on playing his part in helping to orchestrate the Reds’ safety mission before turning his thoughts to his future in the close-season.
Gardner, who is contracted to Villa until 2020, added: “I am here on loan at the minute and there is a massive end of the season approaching. I am just concentrating on now and keeping Barnsley in this league and come the summer, then we will look and see what is happening then.
“But, at the minute, I am not thinking about anything other than keeping Barnsley in this league.
“I think there are a bunch of lads in there who are young and hungry and will work hard. We have got the right players in there and in previous games, we were unlucky not to get points.
“We were unlucky against Burton and we should have had a goal in the last minute. But that is football and we have got to keep working hard. The result at Birmingham showed we are confident and could go again off the back of a disappointing result. It was 2-0, but it could have be three or four.
“If we carry on the way we are, I think we will carry on and climb the table.”
Offering his take on the impact already made by Jose Morais, Gardner added: “He is a very positive manager. Since he has come in, he keeps saying he believes in us, which is massive to hear. I can see where he is coming from as it is a good bunch of lads with a lot of talent in the group.
“We did well to pick ourselves up at Birmingham to get the three points after Burton.”
Barnsley’s home match against Norwich today was postponed.