By Paul Brown
Gary Gardner believes his barnstorming battle with Gareth Barry and Nigel De Jong will stand him in good stead as he looks to establish himself as a quality top-flight midfielder.
Gardner was deeply upset to see Villa go down to Manchester City on Sunday in his first home start.
But he thinks pitting his wits against the title-chasing central duo will serve him well for the future.
He said: "I trained with Gareth when he was at Villa. He was superb. I still look up him now.
"Players like Gareth are world-class. They have umpteen appearances for their club and country. To play against them was difficult but I have learnt a lot from it.
"I have already watched the game against Manchester City four or five times on DVD since and it was good to see what I did.
"It was a great experience to come up against the cream of the Premier League like Gareth and Nigel.
"If you want to make your mark and make an impression in this division, these are the guys you have to come up against."
Gardner admits, despite the defeat, Sunday's match with Manchester City was quite some moment in his flourishing career to date.
He added: "It was a massive moment. I obviously started against Wolves away but to start at Villa Park was a dream come true.
"To come up against a team like Manchester City was an amazing feeling. It was disappointing because we lost and I live to win games but it was a great experience for me and one that will definitely stand me in good stead.
"I had dreamed of that moment all my life, coming out at Villa Park and hearing the roar of the crowd. I was buzzing.
"It's always a special moment - a night game with the lights shining down - but I was just so focused before the game and concentrating fully on my job and what I had to do for the team.
"Saying that, the noise was incredible. You can feel that Holte End. The supporters really are the 12th man and we were sorry we didn't get the result.
"The gaffer and all the lads helped me a great deal before the game. They told me to be calm and that's what I did. Unfortunately we were beaten but we're determined to kick on in two weeks time."
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