Aston Villa midfielder Gary Gardner has endured a tough couple of seasons due to injury, but the England under-21 international is now showcasing some fine form on loan at Brighton & Hove Albion.
A product of the club’s celebrated academy, the promising 22-year-old has made 18 appearances for Villa since his first-team debut in December 2011, but his progress has been hampered since damaging his ACL for the second time in his career at the start of the 2011-12 campaign.
Farmed out to Brighton until January in August after failing to fully convince manager Paul Lambert of his top-flight credentials during pre-season, Gardner has since made four starts in six total appearances for the south coast club, earning solid reviews from supporters in the process.
His latest impressive outing coming in Tuesday’s 1-1 home draw with Cardiff City, the Villa man stood out as the team’s star performer on the night, despite failing to record a goal or assist, and one has to wonder whether he’s now starting to fulfil some of the potential which made him the claret and blue’s most exciting prospect as a teenager.
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Having signed a new two-year deal at Villa Park this summer, Lambert likely still holds out some hope of Gardner becoming a valuable contributor to his side in the future, although competition for places in the centre of the pitch will be fierce upon his return to the midlands.
With the arrivals of Carlos Sanchez and Tom Cleverley since the start of the season, and Ashley Westwood and Fabian Delph entrenched in the starting XI, it might prove wiser to extend his spell with Brighton into the second-half of the campaign while opportunities for minutes remain sparse.
Given that Manchester United loanee Cleverley is far from guaranteed to stay at the club past this season, as well as the fact that Delph’s current contract situation leaves his future up in the air, Gardner could well still have a future at Villa Park, but how he continues to perform in the Championship over the coming months will reveal more about his worth.