It’s the 96th minute of Sunderland’s opening fixture of the 20/21 League One season.
Grant Leadbitter has spent the entire game on the bench, not seeing a minute of action.
It’s unlikely he would have seen any action in the next fixture against Oxford either, until George Dobson was given his marching orders late on in the clash at the Stadium of Light.
After all, he’s 34 years of age – no spring chicken. He is also battling with Josh Scowen for a position in the middle of the park to partner team captain, Max Power.
There were many murmurs among fans, myself included, as to what role Grant had within the club? Is he finished? Have his legs gone?
What has followed in the three league encounters after the clash with Bristol Rovers shows that this man still has much to offer to Sunderland AFC.
Let it be said, we were wrong. Let’s not underestimate the man.
In the build-up to Sunderland’s encounter with Oxford, there was much discussion about who would take George Dobson’s position. It appeared to all that Josh Scowen was the obvious option.
Cue mass hysteria on social media when Grant Leadbitter was named as the man to partner Max Power in midfield. Now we know social media isn’t exactly the most rational of places, but the reaction to Grant’s inclusion was, even by Twitter standards, rather extreme.
Some fans even demanded the dismissal of Phil Parkinson should we lose the game.
Not only was this reaction utterly over the top, but it was also quite dismissive and somewhat offensive to a player who has played almost 450 games in England’s two top divisions.
More than that, this is a man who probably loves the club more than any other player there.
He’s someone desperate to do everything he can for the benefit of the club. To bring joy to the loyal faithful that have suffered so much.
Against Oxford, of course, Leadbitter went on to put in a stellar performance – one of a man who has played well above this level. One of a man who has done it all before. He sat back spraying balls to our oncoming wing backs, breaking up play and protecting our defenders.
What has become clear since that Oxford game is that Grant Leadbitter has an integral role this season, and the team selection question from now on should be ‘Who’s partnering Leadbitter in midfield?’.
In many aspects, his role is similar to the one Dwight Yorke had under Roy Keane when we gained promotion to the Premier League. An experienced pro, a cool head who can conduct from a sitting role in midfield. This is clearly something we need to finally escape the hell that is League One.
The pressing matter with this Sunderland team is the abundantly clear lack of pace it possesses. It’s evident that this is inhibiting our prowess further up the pitch as our four main strikers continue to shoot blanks.
Leadbitter is not going to make lung-bursting runs into the opposition box from deep, yet this doesn’t mean he cannot affect the game.
His range of passing is something that can commence attacks, create opportunities and be the link man for our more creative players. Furthermore, he has shown he has got balls of steel for the big moments with the late penalty against Posh.
He’s cemented his position in the team, and that’s all the more satisfying for a man who has had to contend with an awful lot in recent times. Grief is a very personal journey and extremely different for any individual.
The emotion that poured out in the aftermath of his goal against Peterborough not only showed how much he has gone through, but also how determined he is for us to be successful. We should applaud this, appreciate it and embrace it.
One of our own is back with a bang and it is great to see.
Let’s not take him for granted again.