SUNDERLAND 10 YEARS AGO: Leadbitter relief, Connolly hails fans

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

I THOUGHT MY NUMBER WAS UP!:

Leadbitter feared chop before scoring final goal

GRANT LEADBITTER thought he was going to be substituted before going on to help Sunderland to a smash-and-grab draw at Burnley.

The midfielder confessed that he wasn’t playing well and thought he would be taken off when Graham Kavanagh and Lima Miller were waiting to come in from the bench.

But boss Roy Keane kept faith with the homegrown playmaker and Leadbitter repaid him with the strike that got the Black Cats into the game from 2-0 behind.

Leadbitter said: “We didn’t get going in the game and I was a bit lucky to still be on the pitch when I scored because I wasn’t myself.

“When Kav and Liam were waiting to come on, I thought it would be me coming off. Thankfully the gaffer kept me and I was able to play a part in us getting a point.”

Two goals from Kyle Lafferty had the Clarets in a commanding position before Leadbitter fired a 20-yard drive past home keeper Danny Coyne and then Dave Connolly sealed the point with another spectacular strike.

Leadbitter said: “His goal was ten times better than mine. As soon as it left his foot, I knew it was in.

“He’s been on fire in training all week but I would have had a word with him if he hadn’t scored because I was free alongside him. I was obviously pleased with my goal. I just saw there a little gap to shoot at.

“We have a lot of characters in our dressing room and we always dig deep. There was a big chance for them at 2-1 and I thought the defenders were different class to keep us in it.”

Sunderland are now seven unbeaten but are making a habit of conceding the first goal in games.

Leadbitter added: “We’ve done well to come back and my goal came at a good time because we still had ten minutes left to try for the equaliser.

“The gaffer was obviously disappointed with us at half-time because we did not play well. We can’t keep giving ourselves a mountain to climb because we’re not always going to manage the comebacks.

“We got away with it on Saturday and it keeps us in touch with the play-off places.”

FANS DRIVING US ON:

Connolly inspired by travelling support’s passion

DAVID CONNOLLY says Sunderland’s fanatical away followings are helping drive the team on to better results.

The striker was the toast of the red and white army on Saturday when his stoppage-time equaliser at Burnley sent the fans behind the goal into raptures.

And, after the 2-2 draw, he revealed that the supporters are helping inspire the players on their travels.

He said: “We’ve got a never-say-die spirit in the squad at the moment and that’s not surprising, given our manager, who was famous on the pitch for never giving up.

“It’s great to have that attitude, but to be honest, we have to have it with our fans, because, quite rightly, they expect nothing less.

“At Turf Moor, because of the way the tunnel and ground is arranged, our fans were actually over our dressing room and we could hear them quite clearly before the game and at half-time.

“We could hear the sound of them coming through the walls, singing songs about the players and singing songs about the manager and that has an effect on you.

“We know it’s hard for them to travel such long distances on away trips and it’s important for us not to let them down.

“At Burnley, they had a full stand at the ground and you can’t just give up and roll over when you’re faced with support like that.

“But that’s why – like a lot of other lads – I came to this club, I came here to play in front of them fans and score goals.

“It’s a big club and I want that pressure to produce for then.

“There’s not many clubs in the country that have a fan base like ours.

“We already have the biggest attendances in this division by a distance and if we get promotion we can expect our stadium to be packed out most weeks.

“There’s not many clubs that can offer that sort of backing to players and footballers want to play in front of the biggest crowds they can.”

After scoring, Connolly raced over to celebrate with Sunderland fans, earning a booking he described as: “worth it”.

The former Republic of Ireland striker is hoping to build a bond with supporters and three goals in six games will certainly help that relationship.

Connolly, who speaks with the same southern accent as his former Watford team-mate and legendary Sunderland striker Kevin Phillips, said: “If I score goals like the one at Burnley then that’s going to help the fans warm to me quickly!

“It was great to celebrate with them because I haven’t had an opportunity to do that so far.

“My goals have been scored at home and the fans seem to be a long way away from you, with the track around the outside of the pitch.

“But, at the weekend, they’d come a long way on the day to see us play and I was glad that it wasn’t a long way for nothing.”