Sunderland’s trip to Middlesbrough next week marks a homecoming for Boro academy graduate Lee Cattermole, but it also hold special sentiment for former Black Cat Grant Leadbitter.
The midfielder mirrored Cattermole’s progression throughout the ranks at the Riverside, with Leadbitter progressing through the age groups at the Academy of Light during a six-year- stay on Wearside.
A reunion with former Sunderland boss Roy Keane followed as the 31-year-old moved to Ipswich Town, but a return to the north east was sealed three years later as Leadbitter arrived at the Riverside.
In 2007 the midfielder played a key role as the Black Cats secured promotion to the Premier League – a feat he repeated with Boro – and speaking to safc.com earlier in the season, he recalled the turning point in a memorable campaign.
“The moment that always sticks in my mind as a turning point is away at Burnley,” said Leadbitter.
“I think we were 1-0 down going into the final stages, but me and David Connolly scored late on to get the three points. That really got the belief going and the momentum went on as we went on to win promotion.”
He continued: “I was a young kid when we won the Championship so you kind of take those things for granted, but looking back now it was a great moment and one I’ll never forget.
“I had a lot of great memories playing for the club and it was a really special time, Sunderland is a big part of my family so I still always look out for the results.”
After a disappointing start to the season, which saw the Black Cats lose their opening four league games, Keane arrived on Wearside with a big reputation and an even bigger plan.
And Leadbitter revealed as soon as the former Manchester United midfielder walked through the door, the players knew they were destined for a season to remember.
“Believe it or not, we felt okay [after a tough start to the season] because we knew we had good people in the dressing room. I think Roy [Keane] came in after four or five games and he brought in some experienced heads into the dressing room; Kav and Yorke were big signings and they could drag you through tough times.
“We gathered that momentum when Roy came in and then we went on an amazing run towards the back end of the season which sealed promotion for us. He changed the mentality of the team from the moment he walked in the door. Obviously, we all knew what he accomplished as a player and we appreciated that.”
And although Leadbitter will be aiming to defeat the Black Cats on Tuesday evening, he’ll never forget the highs he experienced playing for his boyhood club.
“It was an amazing feeling to score my first goal against Sheffield Wednesday and I always look back on that kind of moment.
“It meant absolutely everything and for any Sunderland-born lad it’s a dream to score your first goal and do well for the football club.”