CRAIG Gardner says Sunderland have to take inspiration this weekend from their stunning derby win over Newcastle United last season.
The crushing 3-0 victory over the Magpies at St James’s Park in April was the undoubted highlight of last season’s campaign.
And Gardner says he will look to draw strength and encouragement from that day – even though it was a game he did not play in.
The 26-year-old was serving a suspension for the game and famously accompanied the fans on the Metro and into the away end to enjoy one of the most memorable derby victories in history.
And he said: “It was a great day. Unbelievable.
“It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in a football ground where I’ve not been playing.
“And from a personal point of view, it was great to travel with the fans – it brings you back down to earth when you see how much it means to the supporters who live and breathe football.
“It makes you realise what a privilege it is to know you can go down from the crowd and out on to the pitch and fight for the club that means so much to them.
“It was a class day.
“And if I get to play this weekend I’ll look to draw on that.
“In a game when times are difficult and you’re out of breath and struggling to run, in games like a derby game for example, you realise what the fans are saying, what they want you to do and it just allows you to somehow find an extra 10 or 20 per cent.”
Gardner knows how much fans are hurting right now but he insists the players will do all they can this weekend to give them back pride and hope.
And from a personal point of view he would love nothing more than to have a Wear-Tyne derby goal to his name after admitting improving his goals tally remains a priority for him this season.
“Whatever happens, I’m looking to push on a little bit so that I can find myself in and around the box where I can get the chance to shoot,” he said.
“When I had my best goalscoring season and got into double figures at Birmingham City, it was because I was able to get on the edge of the 18-yard box regularly to look for the loose ball or the rebound that might come my way.
“And on a personal level I’ve got to look to get myself in those positions if the opportunity presents itself.
“Of course you don’t necessarily know where you’ll be playing or if you are playing but it is my mind to get goals if I’m played in a position where that becomes a realistic option in games.”