IT is and always has been his best position, but Craig Gardner says it was hard adjusting to playing in central midfield last week.
The 25-year-old faced first club Aston Villa there seven days ago, and will be hoping to keep his place at Everton this afternoon.
That is by no means certain after an ineffectual display, but Gardner admits it wasn’t easy getting back into the old routine after playing as an emergency right-back since the start of pre-season.
“It was tough, I’ve got to admit,” he said. “Playing right-back for ten (competitive) games on the bounce you half get used to playing there and I’ve been playing there in training. When you move back into midfield you’ve got to get your bearings right.
“I’ll admit I had a quiet game, but hopefully I’ve got that out of my system, I’ve got my bearings back and I can help the team create chances to score goals.
“If you have ten weeks off work and come back you’ll be like, ‘What’s happening?’ and that has been the case, but everyone knows I’m a midfielder.
“I’ve played there, I’ve scored goals and that’s what I aim to do.”
Gardner does not have the comfort blanket of in-form team-mates either. With no Sunderland player having found the net since September, his eye for goal is badly needed. Even before that, only Steven Fletcher had scored in the Premier League.
He does not expect any sympathy, though.
“That’s what you get paid for as a footballer,” he said. “It’s good when things are going really well, but when things aren’t people need to step up and say, ‘This is where we really earn our money.’
“We can’t fold, we can’t let people take the mickey out of us and run us ragged. We need to stand up and be men. In the Sunderland changing room we’ve got 20 people like that. Everyone is strong and we will come through it.
“We don’t go into games thinking, ‘Get the ball to Fletch, Fletch has got to do this and Fletch has got to do that.’
“If Simon (Mignolet, Sunderland’s goalkeeper) scores we’ll get the three points and we’ll be happy. We need to take more risks and more chances and that will bring more goals.”