FORMER Black Cats' winger Thomas Butler has settled his long-running legal battle with the club just days before it was due to go to a tribunal.
Butler had alleged Sunderland cancelled his contract for taking leave without permission, despite sending him home to Ireland to seek specialist medical help, claims Stadium of Light chiefs deny.
The dispute was listed to be heard at an employment tribunal in Newcastle, starting on Monday.
But it emerged today the wrangle has been ended after both parties reached an out-of-court settlement.
A club spokeswoman told the Echo: "Sunderland AFC and Thomas Butler are pleased to confirm that an amicable settlement has been reached in relation to the outstanding claims brought against the Club by its former player.
"The issues between the parties, which arose in early 2004, came at what was a difficult time for Thomas. Having now come through a difficult time in his career, the parties have taken the opportunity to resolve the outstanding claims.
"Both the Club and Thomas now wish to move on and concentrate their efforts on the new 2005/06 football season."
When he launched his legal battle last year, Butler, a Republic of Ireland under 21 international, slated Sunderland fans for the weight of expectation they put on players during his time at the club.
His scathing attack came after he joined Scottish Premier League team Dunfermline Athletic when he accused Black Cats' followers of being desperate for players' every touch or pass to be exceptional.
"The fans at Dunfermline are good, considering if, down at Sunderland, if we hadn't scored in the first 10 minutes all the fans would be coming down on top of you," he told reporters.
Butler, 24, was signed by Peter Reid and rose through the youth ranks to make 35 first team appearances during his six year spell at the Stadium of Light.
He signed a one-year deal at Hartlepool United yesterday, after impressing at the Victoria Ground while on loan their last season.