SAFC 10 YEARS AGO: Ward’s family rivalry, Leadbitter’s goal memories

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Here’s what the Echo was reporting on Sunderland 10 years ago today.

SHOW ME SOME SUPPORT!

It will be a family affair for Darren Ward tomorrow when the Worksop-born goalkeeper faces Sheffield Wednesday – with most of the family against him!

Ward’s wife Nicola and her family are massive Wednesday fans. And all that the keeper can count on is that at least his six-year-old son Rhys will be on his side.

Ward told the Echo: “My wife grew up supporting Sheffield Wednesday and her family are all massive Wednesday-ites. Coming from Worksop – which has a Sheffield postcode – we have a lot of Owls around us who will be there tomorrow.

“Nicola will be there as well as her dad and her sister and my dad and my dad’s workmates and other family, although pretty much all of them will be in the Kop rather than the away end, so it’s going to be interesting for me to say the least.

“It’s all friendly banter though. I’ve got my little boy Rhys at school down there who is already getting ribbed by his schoolmates saying that they are going to the game and are looking forward to beating us.

“But I know Rhys is sticking up for me and hopefully I can make him happy.

“He’s really into Sunderland and wearing the shirt and he’s convinced he’s got to keep wearing it for every match now as an omen because we’ve had such a good run lately.”

He added, smiling: “Nicola might say she’s supporting Wednesday but at the end of the day there’s the possibility of a win bonus to be taken into consideration, so I’m sure she’ll be on my side really!”

On a serious note, Ward is looking forward to the game which should be a great occasion, given the big support of both clubs. And he is hoping Sunderland will build on their excellent start to 2007 by getting their third league win in a row.

He said: “It should be a memorable atmosphere because Wednesday have a great set of passionate fans – they showed that when they came up here to the Stadium of Light – and of course we’ll be travelling down in massive numbers.

“It should be an excellent occasion for the supporters and that’s great, but the most important thing is that we build on our recent good form. We’ve been pretty solid recently and the new players have definitely strengthened us.

“So we’ll go there feeling confident and hopefully we’ll get a result we can be pleased with.”

GOALDEN BOY GRANT’S HAPPY MEMORIES

Grant Leadbitter says tomorrow’s trip to Hillsborough will rekindle unforgettable memories.

The midfielder’s strike at Queens Park Rangers in November was voted the best goal from the first half of Sunderland’s season by readers of the club’s website.

But it’s the treasured memory of his first senior goal for Sunderland – which came in their 1-0 home win over Sheffield Wednesday at the end of September – that stands out for the 21-year-old.

Leadbitter said: “The QPR goal got the votes but you always remember your first goal as a special moment and that came against Sheffield Wednesday.

“I just remember a ball coming across from Liam Miller and I hit if from the edge of the box. It was a fantastic moment seeing the ball hit the back of the net. I grew up watching Sunderland and hoping I’d get the chance to score a goal for the club.

“That’s gone now and everyone looks forward.

“Sheff Wed have us a tough game that day, even though they were struggling a bit, and I’m sure it will be the same tomorrow.”

Leadbitter has established himself as a regular in boss Roy Keane’s line-up and has also struck goals in last month’s dramatic comeback draw at Burnley and the Boxing Day home win over Leeds.

He signed a new contract until 2009 last week and is eager to continue his progress.

He said: “It is all about confidence. All I’ve wanted is to feel I belong in the team and now I really believe I do.

“Everything has settled down in my career and being offered a new deal by the gaffer was a tremendous compliment.

“I’ve had a run in the team and once you get a taste of it, you want more. The same goes for scoring goals.

“When I was younger coming through the youth teams I used to get a few goals, but things went off the boil.

“I’ve been given licence to get forward a bit more and I hope I can get a few more goals.

“Dave Connolly in particular has been on fire up front, but a few of us have got goals this season and that is always good for a team.”