The on-loan midfielder's stunning free-kick equaliser helped Forest secure a 1-1 home draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers.
After a quiet first half, Joe Mason put Wolves ahead just before the hour mark with a long-range strike, before Gardner equalised 10 minutes later when he smashed home a free-kick from the edge of the box.
It was the 23-year-old’s second goal in 21 games since joining Forest in early January for his second loan spell with the club, and while it failed to earn him man-of-the-match honours over fellow midfielder Ben Osborn, there would have been no complaints had he taken home the award instead given his performance on the afternoon.
Including his 68th-minute strike, the former England Under-21 international racked up a match-leading five shots over the course of the 90 minutes, while also completing one dribble and 46 of his 54 passes – eight of which were long balls.
He also recorded one key pass to create a first-half chance for Danny Fox and put in a solid defensive shift in the centre of the park, making one interception, two clearances, nine ball recoveries and winning all three of his duels as Paul Williams’ side were held to their sixth draw in nine matches.
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Forest now face a trip to MK Dons next weekend in their final game of the campaign before Gardner returns to Villa armed with some valuable Championship experience.
The already-relegated club are set to overhaul their squad this summer as they prepare for life in the second tier, and despite struggling to break into the first-team over recent seasons after a series of injuries, the Solihull native is expected to be an important part of their plans moving forward.
He had hoped to challenge for a place in the senior squad this term after earning rave reviews throughout last season’s Forest stint, but the promising midfielder saw his progress halted during preseason when he found himself on the receiving end of an "outrageous tackle" in a 2-0 win at Swindon Town.
The resulting ankle problem kept him out of training for the opening months of the campaign, and while former manager Tim Sherwood talked up his potential in the meantime – even labelling him “the future of the football club”, successor Remi Garde did not seem to be as big a fan of his abilities.
Nonetheless, with a new boss arriving this summer and a deal through 2018, Gardner still has a bright future at Villa Park, and given his form for Forest over the past few months, next season could be the one when we finally get to see him excel for his boyhood club.