CRAIG Gardner insists that Sunderland will go into this weekend’s game against Newcastle United fully prepared for what they will face.
And he was honest enough to admit that wasn’t the case when the two teams met at the Stadium of Light at the start of the season, when the Magpies nicked all three points thanks to a Ryan Taylor free-kick.
Gardner though says the current Sunderland side is a much more effective unit now than it was the start of the campaign when it was unfortunate not to get something out of the match.
He said: “You need a settled team, you have players knowing what they are doing and at the start of the season, to be honest, players did not know what they were doing – I certainly didn’t.
“I was not the same player I am now and was last season.
“Maybe that was me getting settled, but as I say, I am settled now and we are ready.
“August’s derby was the second game of the season and for some of the lads it was only our second game together.
“We were unlucky not to win the game – it could have gone either way.
“But there is a third of the season left and we are sky-high in confidence.
“Newcastle will be sky-high in confidence too, so let’s have it.”
Gardner has flourished since Martin O’Neill’s arrival saw him switched to the same goal-scoring midfield role in which he was so productive at Birmingham City last season.
And he admits he would love to become a derby goal hero this weekend.
“It would mean everything,” he said. “But if someone else scores and we win, so be it.
“Everyone wants to score a goal, everybody wants three points.
“If I score the winner I will be the happiest man in the world.
“But if we can win on Sunday I am sure we will be dancing around the changing room.”
Gardner has promised that whatever happens, Sunderland supporters can expect their players to give everything to make them proud.
But he’s also aware that he and his team-mates cannot afford to be gung-ho in such a game.
“We still need to do it for the fans because I am not one of those players who will quit and throw it away,” he said.
“I am a winner, not a quitter, and that is what the fans like to see up here.
“It’s a massive game and you cannot step back with games like this, you need to be on it for 90 minutes.
“At the same time you cannot get carried away and fly into stupid tackles, mouthing off at the referee.
“You just need to let the referee have an easy game and hopefully win by our qualities.”