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From The Durham Times: Gardner's Reinvention Worthy Of The Spotlight

Every week we provide our views to The Durham Times on all things Sunderland. Read it online HERE every Friday, or buy the actual paper from any newsagent's worth it's salt. Enjoy our latest thoughts for them here...

Laurence Griffiths - Getty Images

It has been an odd news week on Wearside. A credible point was gained in London with another splendid goal from Steven Fletcher, yet inevitably it was West Ham's injury time equalizer and Sunderland's failure to secure a first league win of the season that grabbed the headlines.

A win did arrive on Tuesday, and a valuable win that secured progressing in a cup competition that provides a realistic target for the club at that, but the news was understandably dominated by Lee Cattermole's red card and the various fallout, incriminations, and debate that followed.

But with the dust settling a little on the tired of argument of whether or not Lee Cattermole is a 'disgrace' to the club or not, it seems an opportune time to swing the focus elsewhere - specifically on the fact that Craig Gardner is slowly becoming a genuine credit to Sunderland AFC.

It would be fair to say that the Brummie schemer did not get off to a great start in the North East. He had the general demeanour of a man who did not look like he had any enthusiasm for the club at all - almost as if he resented the mere fact he was here - and he was struggling to make an impact on the pitch.

When he later joined Twitter, things didn't exactly go too well either with him seemingly using the social media site to reminisce with Birmingham fans about his days in the Midlands rather than to connect with the fans of his new club. His account soon vanished.

Since then, however, Gardner seems to have totally reinvented himself.

On the pitch he is noticeably playing with a smile on his face, and his willingness to embrace the full back position with such fervour is testament to a player who seems to be positively bubbling with infectious enthusiasm.

There has been no shortage of quality either. Would it be fair to suggest that the former Birmingham man has been Sunderland's best performer in the opening few weeks of the season? Even taking into account Steven Fletcher's goalscoring form, there is a sufficiently strong case from Gardner to at least pose the question. There is certainly no doubt, though, that the marker to beat in the Black Cats goal of the season competition was emphatically laid down by Gardner's exquisitely flighted free kick at stadium:mk.

From what I hear, you would also be hard-pressed to find a sports journalist with a bad word to say about him, and that is perhaps reflected in the amount of times he has been sought by the press for comment of late. But he has seldom struggled to hit the right tone. This week he even tackled the delicate Lee Cattermole situation, but managed to strike just the right balance as he offered an impassioned future backing of his captain without ever seeking to condone his past. He is even behaving himself on Twitter.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Craig Gardner we are seeing at the moment is almost unrecognisable from the one we saw a year ago. Where it has come from I have no idea, but I know that right now he is representing Sunderland AFC absolutely impeccably in every way he can.

The start of the season has felt a little splintered for Sunderland with James McClean's petulant Twitter histrionics and more unwanted scrutiny of Lee Cattermole's captaincy attracting needless headlines. The fact that it is only September and even the Stadium of Light ground staff and drainage system haven't escaped criticism pretty much sums it for Sunderland really.

For my money, that just makes Craig Gardner's emergence as a real credit to the club all the more worthy of the spotlight.

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