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The 25-year-old has been deployed at right-back by Martin O'Neill in the absence of the injured Phil Bardsley, but is keen to get back to his preferred position

Craig Gardner insists he is looking forward to returning to Sunderland's midfield as he prepares to make way for returning right-back Phil Bardsley.

The 25-year-old has been deployed as a makeshift defender this season, after his team-mate was forced to undergo surgery on an ankle injury in pre-season.

Bardsley was named amongst the substitutes in Sunday's 1-1 draw with local rivals Newcastle United after completing his rehabilitation with two outings for the Under-21s.

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And, with the Scotland international now in contention to start against Stoke City on Saturday, Gardner could well be moved back to his preferred position.

"I’m a central midfielder. I like to get forward and score goals – that’s what I enjoy the most," he told the Hartlepool Mail.

“But the manager has asked me to play at right-back until Bardo [Phil Bardsley] is fit and that’s what I’ve done.

“I’m a central midfielder, but I will play anywhere for the good of the team.”

The former Aston Villa man has become renowned for his energetic box-to-box displays at the Stadium of Light and was moved into midfield against the Magpies as O'Neill's side chased an equaliser against 10 men.

And, despite the Northern Irishman expressing his satisfaction with Gardner's performances so far this season, he did concede the Black Cats were lacking a goal threat from deep.

“Craig has done a very good job at right-back and we’ve needed him to do so while Phil has been out," said the 60-year-old.

“But one thing we have missed while he has been playing at right-back is the goal threat he gives us from midfield.

“I know he wants to play in midfield and as soon as I’m able, I will move him forward again.”

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