It’s certainly been some season for Harry Gardiner.
The 19-year-old has stamped his own name onto the club’s academy setup through some eye-catching performances for the club’s under-21’s since being made a regular for the side in the latter months of 2022.
At one point there were murmurs about a potential promotion to Tony Mowbray’s first team for the trip to Norwich City only a couple of weeks ago, and if they had proved to come to fruition, it would have been entirely what Gardiner has worked so hard in the under-21s for.
We are delighted to announce the arrival of striker Harry Gardiner on loan from @SunderlandAFC.— South Shields FC (@SouthShieldsFC) March 23, 2023
Harry, a former @SSFCacademy player, will spend the rest of the season with us.
Welcome (back) to SSFC, Harry!#SSFC #OurTownOurDestiny
In recent weeks, in the absence of Max Thompson and Michael Spellman (the latter, himself, heading out on loan to Blyth Spartans), Gardiner has given Graeme Murty food for thought, helping to propel our U21s away from the bottom of the table.
Five goals in four under-21s matches for Gardiner earned himself a very worthy nomination for February’s Premier League 2 Player of the Month award, and did earn himself a call-up to train with Mowbray’s first team.
Of course, part of this promotion would have been much to do with the first-team’s struggles with their lack of striker options, but take nothing away from Gardiner’s work to put himself into that position.
So, Thursday’s news about Gardiner’s loan move proves one that can only be seen as optimistic for the player and his development within the Academy of Light.
South Shields is likely to be an environment that Gardiner will be suited to: the 19-year-old used to be part of their academy, and has got to work immediately on the training pitch with their gaffer, Super Kev, at the start of this week, who said this about Gardiner on South Shields’ website:
He’s the type of striker who loves to run in behind and is a typical fox in the box with good movement. I’m excited to work with him and pleased to add some extra competition to the squad for the final six games.
And, it’s that movement around the penalty area that’s made him one of the in-form strikers in the division.
For Gardiner, there is the immediate impetus of match minutes in a senior non-league setup for the first time in his developing career, and a side that is targeting promotion to the National League North.
Yet, it’s not to be understated that Gardiner is working with Super Kev, and the experience that he is likely to give the youngster. The Sunderland legend personally requested him from the academy, so clearly there’s something that Phillips sees in him.
If anything, Gardiner will be looking at other players that have taken the short-term move to South Shields and progressed as a result: Bali Mumba being a key example.
Mumba was loaned out to Shields before signing a four-year deal with Norwich in the summer of 2020, and after a rather limited start to life at Carrow Road his career has rapidly grown with loans at Peterborough and Plymouth, where he is now looking likely to gain promotion to the Championship with the Pilgrims.
So, for Gardiner, having these key role models will be key. It won’t be easy in such a physical environment for their final six matches of their campaign, but nevertheless, it will be a learning curve that is only likely to put him in better stead for him coming back to the club for next season, and continuing to battle for more regular first-team football, whether in the North East or elsewhere in the football pyramid.
His debut for Phillips’ side is likely to come when South Shields face Radcliffe Borough on Saturday afternoon at the 1st Cloud Arena, coinciding with Non-League Day as well.
With only six games left, it’s a massive chance for Gardiner to go and clinch some key experience in his development, and hopefully Shields is the place for him to really stamp his name down.