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Spot on Gardner aiming for brighter times
CRAIG GARDNER believes Sunderland's squad is full of character and hopes his penalty in last weekend's draw with Fulham is the catalyst for a push into the Premier League's top ten.
The Black cats' renaissance has stuttered in recent weeks after failing to win any of their last five matches, losing three of those.
Such a run has seen Sunderland drop back down the table and they sit just six points above the relegation zone ahead of this Saturday's important trip to bottom club Queens Park Rangers.
Another defeat to QPR, buoyed by a victory at Southampton, and worries about dropping in to the Championship would significantly increase.
But after sparking Sunderland's revival against Fulham last weekend with a 37th minute penalty, which led to Martin O'Neill's team claiming a point at the Stadium of Light, Gardner is hopeful brighter times are ahead again.
"Hopefully that penalty is a turning point," said the converted right-back. "We don't want to be thinking 'are we safe?' That's the reality I know, but that's not what we want to be thinking about.
"We want to finish in the top ten and we want to be looking up the league and not down in the final games of the season."
Sunderland head in to the final ten matches of the Premier League season knowing they were let down by an awful start to the campaign.
Since then there have been positives and improved displays but O'Neill knows that for progress to continue under his guidance there needs to be greater consistency.
Gardner understands but thinks the number of players willing to take the penalty against Fulham when they were 2-0 down highlights that the spirit in the camp remains strong.
"We got that penalty and most would have bottled it, that's not me and I wanted to face it," he said. "I buried it. That shows what I am about. I am not a hider. I will keep going for the team.
"We could have easily lost the Fulham game. We have a changing room that none of us are bottlers. The fans could have turned, we could have hid, but we didn't and the fans stayed behind us."
Sunderland will head to Loftus Road this Saturday still without striker Connor Wickham.
The 19-year-old's loan at Sheffield Wednesday is not due to expire until after their trip to Leicester City on Saturday and O'Neill does not have the option of recalling him beforehand despite reports.
O'Neill will then weigh up whether or not to extend the one-month loan knowing that the England Under-21s international is getting first team football.
Sunderland could only name six of their seven substitutes against Fulham last weekend and their only attacking option on the bench was winger James McClean.
O'Neill, meanwhile, looks set to hand French teenager Mikael Mandron a new contract.
The former Bolougne forward's two-year scholarship he signed in the summer of 2011 is due to run out this month but Sunderland have been impressed with his development.
The 6ft 3in streiker impressed during an initial trial and qualifies to play for England and Scotland as well as France.
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- Bardsley and Kilgallon axed from Sunderland squad
- Di Canio wants right characters at Sunderland
- Di Canio: Follow me or leave
- Di Canio focus is on club's academy
- Di Canio lays down the law
- Di Canio questions Wickham's attitude
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