The young defender missed the first two months of the season as he recovered from a pre-season thigh problem.
He has now made a handful of reserve team appearances and has been recalled into George Graham’s first team squad plans.
Gardner’s latest reserve outing pitted him against Derby’s Premiership strike duo Deon Burton and Dean Sturridge. The England Under-21 defender handled the threat well — yet Burton still managed to go home with the match ball after grabbing a hat-trick in the Rams’ 3-0 win.
So a frustrating night at Pride Park but for Gardner it marked another 90 minutes under his belt as he bids to stay in our first team plans.
“Things are going okay,” he said. “I played at left-back for the last couple of games but I was back at centre-half and I’m now looking to get some games under my belt, get back in the first team squad and see what happens.
“It was nice to be in the squad and hopefully I can keep that going, keep in there and see what happens and hopefully get a debut somewhere. That is my target for the season.”
In the meantime the 20-year-old is relishing the chance to play against the quality of the likes of Burton and Sturridge at reserve team level.
“It is a good experience to play against partnerships like that and to play at Pride Park. It can only improve your game,” he explained.
“The front two were lively and good at what they do. If one spins, one goes far and they’ve got good movement. They’ve played together in the Premiership and have a good know-how between themselves.
“I thought we handled them quite well but at the end of the day Burton has gone home with the match ball.
“In the first half I thought we were in the game and Chris Hughton said that we just needed to put our foot in a bit more but at half-time it was still only 1-0 and we were still in the game. In the second half we had the goal disallowed for some reason, they then scored two goals late on and it looks like worse than it actually was.”
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Things are looking rosier for Anthony Gardner.