Gardner exclusive: It's great to return to action and I'm feeling strong
Gary Gardner spoke of his delight at returning to action for Villa's U21 side, declaring: "I'm back and feeling strong."
Gardner made a surprise comeback in the Barclays U21 Premier League defeat at Fulham - eight months after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
The 20-year-old got 45 minutes under his belt at Motspur Park and went close with a couple of long-range efforts before being replaced at half-time by Jordan Lyden.
It was his first appearance in a Villa shirt since the U21 clash against Stoke at Bodymoor Heath on August 22.
"It has been a long time, eight months, but I'm back now feeling strong and ready to kick on so hopefully everything will be all right," said Gardner.
"I don't think you lose it. If I see a sight at goal I'll shoot. It's just a case of getting my match fitness back.
"I'm happy to be back and hopefully I can push on now.
"Once it is healed you are stronger than before so it is just about getting your match fitness up and playing games again."
Gardner has vowed to take his comeback one step at a time after admitting it was a bonus to return to action before the end of the current campaign.
The final U21 league fixture against Everton at Bodymoor Heath in eight days time is his next target.
"It is ahead of schedule and I'll listen to the staff here," he added.
"They have been brilliant with me throughout my rehab and if they say play half a game, I'll play half a game.
"I'm eager to play more but I've got to be sensible and listen to them.
"I could have left it until next season but the type of lad I am, I wanted to be back playing as soon as possible and I'm happy that I've come back before the end of the season.
"I'll train all week and hopefully play next week - maybe for a bit longer than today. I'll take it step by step and hopefully I'll be ok."
Gardner thanked manager Paul Lambert for helping him remain upbeat throughout his long stint on the sidelines.
"I spoke to him in training and he said take it easy and don't rush eight months into one game," he added.
"He has been brilliant all the way through. He just said keep your head up and you will be back.
"Time has flown and now I'm back training with the squad and it has been brilliant."
Snap up match tickets for the Sunderland game.
Picture by Martin Goldthorpe