GARY GARDNER has revealed how personal recommendations from Connor Wickham and Ross Barkley made his mind up about joining Sheffield Wednesday.
The 21-year-old midfielder moved to Hillsborough on loan from Aston Villa last week and made his debut in Tuesday’s 1-0 defeat at home to Derby County.
Gardner applied himself well before being substituted just after the hour and after an injury-plagued last couple of years is determined to get plenty of game-time under his belt.
That seems likely with Kieran Lee that latest Owls player to fall victim to an injury jinx that has hit the Wednesday squad in recent weeks. The midfielder strained his hamstring during that loss to the Rams and is likely to miss Saturday’s derby clash at Huddersfield Town.
For Gardner, the decision to move to Sheffield was made very easy once he had spoken to Sunderland striker Wickham and Everton midfielder Barkley, who over the past two seasons have both enjoyed successful loan spells with the Owls.
“As soon as Paul Lambert said I could go out,” revealed the new arrival, “my agent was straight on to Sheffield Wednesday.
“They were interested so I spoke to a few players who had been here - Connor Wickham and Ross Barkley - and they said it is a wonderful club.
“I played at England at every (junior and youth) level with Connor and Ross. “I picked up the phone straight away to ask them about the club and what it was like. Both said they loved every minute and that the fans are great.
“They also said the lads are great and that made my mind up. Ross and Connor played a big part in me coming here, 100 per cent.
“I know this is a massive club and as soon as the interest came along I was desperate to come here.”
Gardner has 16 Premier League appearances with Villa to his name but it is two serious injuries that have so far hampered his career.
Both were anterior cruciate ligament injuries to his right knee, the first in 2009 and the second happening three years later at a time when Gardner had made the breakthrough into the first team.
Since suffering the second of those blows in August, 2012, Gardner has made just two senior appearances. The first was when he came off the bench in May for a two-minute cameo as Villa drew 2-2 with Wigan on the final day of last season, while the second was on Tuesday against Derby.
Gardner said: “Unfortunately, I have had a few bad injuries in the past and now I want to kick on. I definitely feel the injuries are behind me now.
“I am stronger, wiser and I know for a fact that I just need minutes under my belt now.
“The last couple of years have been frustrating. It is a footballer’s worst nightmare to be injured. I have been very unlucky but thankfully I had my close friends and family to get me through that.
Villa have been a big help, too.”
Due to not having played in the FA Cup this season, Gardner will be eligible for Monday’s rearranged fifth round tie at home to Charlton Athletic. Before that, the Owls travel to Huddersfield and the new loanee believes there was plenty to build on in that defeat to promotion chasing Derby.
He said: “Obviously, we were disappointed with the result but I thought the lads worked hard. It needed a bit of magic at the end and Patrick Bamford came up with that.
“It was good to make my debut, I want to get minutes under my belt. I am a player who likes to score goals and I want to work hard.
“The plan was always to play for an hour. The gaffer told us the team on Monday and i was buzzing to find out I was playing.
“I have come here to play football. I needed to get out at Villa because I wasn’t playing. I have been out a while and games are what I need.
“I like to get in the box and score goals, while also doing the dirty work and getting some tackles in. I see myself as a box-to-box midfielder.”
Wednesday’s trip to Leicester City scheduled for Saturday April 5 has been pulled forward to be shown live by Sky on the previous night, kick-off 7.45pm.