Gardner, 23, has long-been hailed as one of Villa’s most exciting prospects, having made 14 top-flight appearances during the 2011-12 campaign after earning his first-team debut in December 2011.
The former England Under-21 international saw his progress derailed in August 2012, though, when he ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee for the second time in his short career – limiting him to just two outings for the club since.
However, after spending the first half of last term on loan at Brighton & Hove Albion, the Birmingham-native go on to earn rave reviews during a further short-term stint with Nottingham Forest, scoring four goals in 18 games, while showing glimpses of the potential which once saw him compared to Steven Gerrard.
Now back working with the first-team in pre-season training, the former trainee is determined to push himself into Tim Sherwood’s plans for the coming campaign, even though he knows the strong competition for midfield places will make it a tough ask.
“It’s time for me to step up now,” said Gardner. “After a season in the Championship I feel I’m ready to play in the Premier League again.
“I’ve done it before at a young age when I was 19. I know there’s competition but you want that. You never want to feel comfortable, you always want to be fighting for places.
“I’m ready for that and I’ll give 100 per cent for the gaffer and make his decision hard. Hopefully he’ll pick me.”
|Team||Goals||Assists||Total Key Passes||Passing Accuracy||Total Tackles GAME||Interceptions GAME||Ball Recoveries GAME||Dispossessed GAME||Appearances||Mins Played|
|Gary Gardner||Brighton / Forest||6||2||26||77%||2.74||2.03||7.29||0.77||35||2,743|
Gardner also became renowned at Forest last season for his penchant for firing off spectacular long-range shots – a trait he is hoping to showcase with Villa during the 2015-16 campaign.
“That’s definitely one of my main assets, to get in and around the box and get my shots off, dead-ball situations, I just want to get as many of my shots off as I can and score goals,” he added. “At Forest I played in a more defensive role, so I can do that as well. But I like to get in the box and shoot and get as many goals as I can.”
Gardner’s bid for regular action at Villa this season will be far from straightforward, with captain Fabian Delph, new signing Idrissa Gueye, the understated Ashley Westwood and Copa America star Carlos Sanchez all rivalling him for minutes in the centre of the park.
As a life-long fan and local product, the claret and blue faithful would love nothing more than to see him succeed but he will need to impress over the remaining pre-season friendlies to ensure Sherwood is confident enough to hand him a chance.