Leadbitter thrilled by Boro’s promotion – as he faces end-of-season operation

Grant Leadbitter (left) celebrates Boro's promotion success
Grant Leadbitter (left) celebrates Boro's promotion success
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Grant Leadbitter’s joy at getting the promotion job done goes beyond the relief of avoiding the play-offs.

The Middlesbrough skipper may have struggled to go through the agony of the lottery – physically and emotionally.

Leadbitter revealed he played through the barrier to lead Boro to the Premier League, but now requires surgery on a hernia.

“Promotion means a lot,” said the former Sunderland midfielder, who has played more than 50 times in the top flight for the Black Cats.

“Last year’s play-off final hurt a lot, I’m not going to lie, I’ve been thinking about the play-off final for the last year.

“It’s been difficult going to sleep at night because you think of those moments but this makes up for it.

“The fans deserve it too.

“I’ve got an operation next week – for the last few months I have been playing with injections, so I’ve got to thank the doctor and physios for getting me through.

“I’m looking forward to getting fit for pre-season.”

Ben Gibson hailed the resilience of both team and town after Boro ended their seven-year absence from the Premier League by securing the draw they needed against Brighton on Saturday.

Despite talk of £200million jackpots, the 23-year-old Gibson knows the true value of promotion more than most having been an integral part of his home-town club since first signing youth forms at the age of 12.

Gibson said: “This town is full of hard-working people but it sometimes doesn’t get the best press. We have put ourselves back on the map – some people said we were the forgotten town.

“It has been a tough seven years and football to the people is so important. To give them something back is amazing, and it will no doubt given them a boost.

“I have dreamed of being in the Premier League. I grew up watching Middlesbrough in the Premier League – now we are back there and I can’t wait to bring those nights home again.”

Vindicating Aitor Karanka’s decision to choose him over local boy Stewart Downing, Cristhian Stuani steered Boro within sight of promotion when he swept the ball over the line from a David Nugent cross.

Brighton rallied and looked set to force a nervous finale when Dale Stephens headed the Seagulls level on 55 minutes, only to be sent off three minutes later in a decision – criticised by Brighton boss Chris Hughton – which effectively ended their chances.

Thousands of Boro fans poured onto the pitch at the final whistle to celebrate the end of a tumultuous season which included a bizarre spell in which Karanka looked set to leave the club after staying at home for the 2-0 defeat at Charlton in March.

Karanka returned to finish the job – insisting on Saturday he intended to remain in charge for next season’s Premier League campaign – and Gibson insisted the adversity of March had only increased his side’s determination to succeed.

“A lot of of stuff was publicised and a lot of stuff got blown out of proportion a little bit but we have shown how strong we are,” insisted Gibson.

“When other teams around us saw that happened, they probably thought we had blown promotion, but we have shown the toughness and togetherness of the squad, the football club and the town.”

Former boss Gareth Southgate – who was in charge when his side slipped out of the Premier League seven years ago – predicted the club will prosper in the top fight.

Southgate told BBC Radio Five Live’s Sportsweek: “I think there will a momentum with Middlesbrough. I think for the next couple of years maintaining that status will be seen as a positive.

“The expectations will be a bit lower, but the energy in the stadium will give the team every chance of success.”

Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Nsue, Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Clayton, Leadbitter, Stuani, Ramirez (Downing 63), Adomah, Nugent (Rhodes 80). Subs not used: De Laet, De Sart, Agazzi, Kalas, Forshaw. Goal: Stuani 19.

Brighton: Stockdale, Saltor, Goldson, Greer (LuaLua 82), Rosenior, Knockaert, Stephens, Kayal, Murphy (Sidwell 64), Hemed, Baldock (Wilson 46). Subs not used: Maenpaa, Bong, Calderon, Skalak. Sent Off: Stephens (59). Booked: Knockaert, Saltor, Goldson. Goal: Stephens 55.

Att: 33,806. Ref: Mike Dean (Wirral).