CRAIG Gardner dedicated his stunning thunderbolt equaliser which kept Sunderland in the FA Cup at the weekend to the thousands of fans who made the trip to the Reebok Stadium.
The midfielder’s 20-yard rocket in the 75th minute of a classic cup tie on Saturday completed a stirring comeback by the Wearsiders.
And Gardner, who described the moment as one of the best in his career, said: “We needed to give the fans something back, and at half-time we knew we hadn’t been good enough.
“We just said ‘look we’ve got 5,000 fans out there, let’s go out and give them something to cheer’.
“And for the amazing backing they gave us throughout, but especially the second half, they deserved that.
“I scored a goal for Birmingham against Tottenham which nearly kept the club up in the Premier League.
“At the time it looked as though it might have done, and the feeling with the fans that day was unbelievable.
“And I’m not comparing the two, I’m just saying that when I scored that goal against Bolton and ran towards the fans, I felt the same vibe.
“To see those fans going absolutely bonkers after I’d scored was just a fantastic feeling and we, in our dressing room, have got to be grateful and proud that we’ve got fans like that.”
Gardner believes that the team spirit that Martin O’Neill is helping to generate is what really pulled the side through and gives them the chance of progressing further in the competition.
The 26-year-old said: “The gaffer’s a genius, and he knows exactly what to say and what not to say to get the best out of every one.
“He was great at half-time when we needed it.
“He knows when to sort you out or when to let yourselves sort it out between you.
“And I just thought we showed tremendous team spirit to get the draw.
“We came out in the second half determined to change it around and we conceded almost immediately – and when you’re 2-0 down like that, it’s so hard to come back from.
“We saw what happened to Newcastle when they went 2-0 down in the early game at Brighton.,
“But we didn’t fold, we came back, and in the end I thought we were really unlucky not to win.
“Now we’ve got to look to complete the job in the replay.
“It was an amazing atmosphere with 5,000 Mackems behind us, and we’ve got to make the most of having 35,000 behind us at the Stadium of Light.”