Sunderland old boy Leadbitter wants icing on Boro’s cake at Wembley

Grant Leadbitter heads to Wembley on Monday
Grant Leadbitter heads to Wembley on Monday
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Grant Leadbitter is determined to help Middlesbrough into the Premier League in Monday’s Championship play-off final at Wembley.

But the ex-Sunderland man acknowledges that Norwich City will be a tough team to beat, despite having overcome the Canaries in both league meetings this season, 4-0 at the Riverside and 1-0 at Carrow Road.

We’ve performed well all year, so it will be the icing on the cake if we do overcome Norwich

Grant Leadbitter

The Fencehouses-born midfielder said: “On Monday we play a top team who, let’s not get carried away, were Premier League players 12 months ago when we were fighting to get into the play-offs, so it’s a big change.

“We can’t count our chickens yet.”

Boro will seize their opportunity, though. “When you enjoy football you win games,” Leadbitter added, “so we’ll enjoy the occasion and step-up and perform like we have done eight, nine times out of ten this year.

“We’ve performed well all year, so it will be the icing on the cake if we do overcome Norwich.”

Alex Neil, Norwich’s 33-year-old boss, has won 16 of his 24 games in charge – a record not bettered in the Championship from the day he took charge in January.

Boro midfielder Adam Clayton said that he had “heard (Norwich forward) Cameron Jerome say ‘revenge’” was on their mind (after two league losses to the Teessiders), but says he and his team-mates “have one aim and that’s to be in the Premier League and it’s Norwich who are in the way.”

Clayton added: “It’s going to be really tough job, so we have to go there with our own game plan and do what we have to do.”

Striker Lewis Grabban returns to Norwich’s squad after a three-game suspension.

Team spirit could make all the difference for Middlesbrough in their Sky Bet Championship play-off hopes.

That was the message from George Friend 48 hours ahead of Boro doing battle with Norwich City at Wembley for a lucrative place in the Premier League.

The phrase ‘team spirit’ is about as old as football itselfm but Friend says it is no cliche at Boro.

“I would certainly echo what Grant Leadbitter said that it’s the best I’ve been in,” said the left-back.

“I came from Doncaster where, how can I put it, we had a mixture of different personalities.

“They tried something out bringing a lot of different players and we didn’t all get on, so, when I first came here, I thought it was brilliant.

“I believe now each year, it’s my third season now, that the team spirit has got better and better.

“We’ve got boys from all over the world here and everyone gets on brilliantly. I’m not just saying that, we really do.

“And everyone wants each player to do well and that’s why it shows and it comes across on the pitch.”

Friend says he will be “proud” to wear the Boro jersey at Wembley adding, professionally and modestly, he has “to get selected first”.

He added: “If I am playing, it will be the best feeling. You can feel that, you can feel the passion around here and the North East is very passionate about football.

“I’ll be honoured and proud to be wearing that Middlesbrough shirt.”