As far as homecomings go, Grant Leadbitter’s return to Sunderland has been far from the dream many hoped.
The academy product returned midway through our first attempt to get out of League One, with promotion in our sights. Fast-forward 21 months, and he only has two failed promotion attempts and two Wembley defeats to show for his time with the club.
His off-field personal issues became evident after a heroic performance at Fratton Park in the play-off semi, and culminated in him taking some time out before last season’s curtailment.
Seeing Leadbitter score the winner in Saturday’s 1-0 victory over Peterborough, the first goal of his second spell on Wearside, felt like he’d finally arrived home.
Few players have represented Sunderland in the last 15 years with more passion than Grant Leadbitter.
He played a part during many of the highs and lows of the mid to late 2000s, with perhaps the most poignant moment being his emotional celebration after scoring in a 1-1 draw against Arsenal in 2008. The match came just weeks after the passing of his father, and Leadbitter, in tears, ran to the spot near the sideline where his father’s ashes are buried.
He repeated this celebration after scoring the penalty that won the game on Saturday.
It was emotional, and made me even more glad that it was Leadbitter who found the back of the net.
Whether he’s been playing for Sunderland, Ipswich or Middlesbrough, Leadbitter has always worn his heart on his sleeve.
His career record shows that he has been a regular member of the starting lineup wherever he’s been throughout the years and, while his second spell at Sunderland has seen him be more of a bit-part player than he may have envisaged when rejoining, he’s demonstrated so far this season that he can still be a vital part of a midfield that has often lacked bite.
Granted, he may be a bit slower than he used to be, yet he makes up for it with his wealth of experience.
In a midfield including the likes of George Dobson and Josh Scowen, Leadbitter can keep a level head and control the ball in an area of the pitch that has long been a problem for us.
However, at the start of the season, his prospects of being s first team regular looked bleak. Max Power being appointed as team captain in Leadbitter’s place suggests this would be the case.
With the other midfielders in the squad it seemed to make sense that Leadbitter would watch on for most of the season, but it’s fair to say that his performances in the past two matches have eclipsed that of his teammates.
Grant is the kind of player who will work his socks off for however long he is on the pitch, whether that be nine minutes or ninety. It is this type of player that is critical for a promotion charge – and God knows we need one of those this season.
Whether or not Grant Leadbitter plays many matches this season still remains to be seen, but having a player of his experience and drive around the squad in any capacity is vital.
A local player who loves the club and has over 500 competitive appearances under his belt is always a huge benefit to any club.
This could well be his last season as a player and, if it is, how fitting would it be to see Leadbitter – with a helping hand from Power, of course – lift that championship trophy?