MARTIN O'NEILL has told Craig Gardner he will have to deal with life at Sunderland until the end of the season at least after the midfielder's brother claimed he would prefer to leave.

Gardner's brother Gary, the Aston Villa player, has confirmed that Sunderland's summer recruit from Birmingham City would like to move back to the Midlands.

But O'Neill, happy with the performances of Gardner who he could hand a start to against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup tomorrow, can't see him going anywhere before Tuesday's transfer deadline.

"He'll just have to be homesick for another couple of months at least," said O'Neill. "There have been inquiries about him but no-one has forced us to make a decision about him.

"I'd be pretty well certain (he'll stay beyond January) and deep down he accepts that. He's prepared to give everything and he's become popular with the fans so I don't think any of us would like to see him go."

Gardner has attracted interest from West Brom and Wolves and, speaking yesterday, his 19-year-old brother Gary hinted he would welcome the move - just months after leaving Birmingham for £5m.

"We still speak every day and we're really close. He came back over last weekend," said Gary Gardner. "I would love for him to come back to the Midlands with Aston Villa and play alongside him but who knows?

"There are six brothers altogether and we're a close family. We all see each other almost every day. I didn't think Craig realised how hard it would be to pull away from that.

"I think he does find it hard, but he is the type of lad to get his head down and just keep fighting. I am sure he would want to come back to the Midlands but he is a Sunderland player at the moment and I'd imagine the fans would want to keep him there."