Gardner blow leaves big gap to be filled

The Green 'Un Online: Owls latest news.
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Anthony Gardner’s injury is a huge setback for him and Wednesday.

Dave Jones will always says that when anyone is sidelined it means an opportunity for someone else, which it does, but in my book Gardner has been different class since he joined the Owls, with his quality and composure.

He has been a calming influence when the team have come under pressure, a reliable defender whose heading, tackling, positional play and passing reflect his Premier League pedigree.

The centre half came with an injury history from earlier in his career but a relatively trouble-free record at his previous club, Crystal Palace.

No=one can legislate for the sort of injury that he suffered at Middlesbrough last Saturday when he jumped for a ball and damaged his Achilles tendon.

This mishap is fairly common in sport and it can happen suddenly to anyone, including sportsmen with no history of Achilles trouble.

Mark Lawrenson retired early because of it; other footballers who were out of the game for months because of it include David Beckham, John Barnes, Neil Webb and Yakubu.

Gardner will be 33 on September 19 and his two-year contract runs out next summer.

It is a grave matter for someone to suffer such a serious injury at this stage of his career.

Gardner played in 37 league games and one cup tie in his first season at Hillsborough; this season he has been ever=present up to last Saturday. A quietly spoken and seemingly relaxed character, he has captained the club by example on the field and with calm advice.

Everyone will hope that he makes a full recovery as quickly as possible, but he will take some replacing.

I cannot remember him making a costly mistake since he was signed from Crystal Palace. Miguel Llera made a pretty good job of it after taking over at Middlesbrough and is the natural replacement as the left-side centre half.

But Gardner’s absence leaves the club down to three experienced, recognised centre halves: Llera, Kamil Zayatte and Martin Taylor.

With Gardner fit, the centre back department has a nice balance, with two right-footers and two left-footers.

That does not mean you cannot have two of the same kind in the team: Gardner and Llera were the first-choice partnership for most of last season, with Llera on the right.

Llera chipped in with a few goals and some useful set-pieces but, in Jones’ mind, there have been sometimes been question marks about his defending - hence the signing of Zayatte to partner Gardner.

Zayattee’s arrival also knocked Taylor’s chances of getting back in the team.

But had it been the newcomer who had been injured last Saturday, ‘Tiny’ Taylor would have been the one to come on, as a right-footer, Jones revealed.

The manager was pleased with the club captain’s performance in a behind-closed-dooors friendly against Chesterfield last week.

He said: “Tiny has been doing really well. He played and was outstanding. If Kamil had got injured, he would have gone on.”

Taylor suffered a year ago for having a tough start to his Hillsborough career after he was signing from Watford, but has looked sound when he has occasionally come in because someone else was out.

A year later, another new centre half, Zayatte, has had a mixed time: some of his defending has been excellent and he scored at Leeds, where he was also outfoxed by a bit of brilliant play from Whites scorer Ross McCormack.

He scored an unfortunate own goal in the Millwall game, and last week was beaten by Lukas Jutkiewicz before the striker crossed for Middlesbrough’s equaliser.

Gardner felt that he and Zayatte complement each, with the captain more of a sweeper and the new signing one who enjoys attacking the ball. They also know each other’s game from their time together at Hull.

But now Gardner is out, Jones’ hopes of achieving a settled, first-choice back four have been dashed, at least for the time being.