Garner itching to get back out on the pitch
Manchester United youngster James Garner is hoping a wait of five months and three days comes to an end on Wednesday night.
The 19-year-old enjoyed a superb season at Under-23s level, scoring eight goals in 10 Premier League 2 outings, but his last appearance was 156 days ago, when he hit the net in a 3-2 victory against Stoke City for Neil Wood's team.
The coronavirus-enforced break brought the Academy campaign to an abrupt halt but the midfielder has been training with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's squad for some time, as he targets more experience in the Europa League.
Garner was involved in both legs against Partizan Belgrade, the away tie at Astana and the 4-0 home win over AZ Alkmaar at Old Trafford last year.
He is hoping to be included in the matchday squad for the visit of LASK as the Reds look to seal qualification for the knockout tournament in Germany, with a healthy 5-0 advantage in the bag from the tie in Linz before lockdown.
When asked whether he was desperate to play, he replied: "Oh yeah, that’s what I am itching to do! I’ve not played a game for so long I can’t even tell you. Yes, it was against Stoke in the last Under-23s game a few months ago, even more. So I am itching to get out playing now to get some games. That is what I am here to do and what I want to do.
“I was buzzing to get back after the long wait and just buzzing to be back around the lads and inside the environment and the training ground. It has been good.
“I think, obviously, in the position I play in, I’ve got to be fit to get up and down. I think I’m just naturally fit so, when I came back, I found it tough but also it was easy at the same time because of my natural fitness.
“I am obviously hoping to be involved and travel with the team. It is what I have been training for and what I am working towards. It would be good to hopefully get the chance to travel with the team and get some minutes under my belt.
“The competition is tough with some top teams and players in it," he added. "Being in and around our team, with our lads being top players, and playing against experienced opponents has helped me this season. It’s been top and it’ll be so good to win the trophy, if we can.
“Playing in the UEFA Youth League in the past has definitely helped me. We missed out on it this season but playing against international teams definitely prepares us for when we go up with the senior lads.
“It’s definitely a difficult situation on Wednesday. We can’t get too complacent. Of course, we’re 5-0 up but we’ve just got to go out there and play exactly how we would play if it was 0-0 or we were 2-0 down. We’ve just got to go out and play the United way.
“I think the tournament is very exciting and, like I said, it’s what I’m training for – to get as much involvement as I can. If I can be involved with the team and travel over there to Germany if we qualify, to be with the guys, and get some minutes, it would be very, very good.”
Garner's strike against West Brom was voted PL2 Goal of the Season at the Premier League Academy awards last week, and the youngster admits it was his favourite of an impressive campaign.
"It was some strike, yes, one of the cleanest I’ve hit," he told us. It’s definitely one of my favourites. Maybe the one against Stoke in the last game of the season was up there too. The West Brom one at the start of the season was definitely my favourite and the Newcastle one was my second-favourite, to be fair.
This year, it’s been something I’ve been trying to work on. All the lads and my family, my dad and brother, have been saying you just need to try to shoot more. It’s the kind of thing that, if you don’t shoot, you’re not going to score. I am shooting more and that one flew into the top corner.
I have been working on it and I need to add that into my game and show I can go forward as well as being a defensive type of player. It’s something I am trying to implement into my game and I think I’ve done that this season.
We are all United! Get behind the Reds! On sale now, get the new adidas training kit.