Gardner exclusive: There's real light at the end of the tunnel
Gary Gardner admits it can easily be a forlorn experience rehabbing your way back to full fitness.
He still has work to do but Gardner can't wait to be back in training after recovering successfully from a cruciate ligament problem to his right knee, after the pain of the same injury to his left knee the previous campaign.
It's been a long journey for the aspiring ace but the light at the end of the tunnel is shining bright in his eyes.
Even during the dark days after his initial corrective operation, he took solace from the kind words of fans as well as supportive staff at the training ground.
"I am buzzing now. There's real light at the end of the tunnel. I have been through it before and that's helped me. I've know what to do and what not to do. I know I'll be fine.
"The knee feels strong - stronger than ever. I feel so confident. Hopefully when I'm fully back at it, I can push on in my career.
"I am a young lad. I'm getting through it and I know I will be good to go in the future.
"I was three months behind schedule with my left knee because of an infection. But this one has gone really smoothly. And now I feel brilliant.
"It's been hard, especially at the start. I absolutely love football so to not be able to play it for a period of time kills me. It's tough at the start, really tough, but I've felt my mood improve along the journey to full fitness.
"It's great that I have my big family behind me and messages of support from fans have brightened everything up too. I have had my low days but the fans have been superb.
"I can't thank them enough. It's not just Villa fans either. I've had supporters of other clubs asking how it's going and wishing me luck in my recovery. That's an amazing thing.
"They have been right behind me.
"When I'm back playing I'll certainly be thinking about their messages of support and how they've helped me get back out there on the pitch. Hopefully I can repay them with my performances."
Gardner also has high praise for skipper Vlaar, who himself had to battle back from two cruciate ligament injuries while playing for Feyenoord in Holland.
Vlaar has taken Gardner "under his wing" and boosted the midfielder's mental powers with pep talks at Bodymoor Heath.
"Ron has been in the same situation. He knows everything about the injuries and what's needed physically and mentally to get through it.
"He's come and chatted to me and given me advice and pushed me along with encouraging words. That's great.
"He's so strong - physically and mentally - and he's taken me under his wing. I can't thank him enough.
"Fabian has been superb also. He's another lad I get on great with. All the lads have been top-class. Shay has been superb.
"They have looked after me. When I see the gaffer he asks how I am too. He's brilliant. It's superb that he asks, even though I can't play for him at the moment.
"It's good to know people care and are looking out for you. Hopefully I can come back with a bang."
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