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Ex-Sunderland and Middlesbrough legend Grant Leadbitter on Sheffield Wednesday semi-final and promotion hopes - exclusive

Grant Leadbitter hopes it will be third time lucky for Sunderland in the League One play-offs as they prepare for their return leg against Sheffield Wednesday.

By Joe Ramage
Saturday, 7th May 2022, 12:10 pm

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The Black Cats played host to one of the most hotly anticipated play-off ties in EFL history on Friday with well over 40,000 supporters inside the Stadium of Light.

And a blockbuster semi-final reaches its conclusion on Monday as Alex Neil’s side travel to Hillsborough with another white-hot atmosphere expected.

Leadbitter, 36, knows a thing or two about the play-offs having twice failed to earn promotion in recent years since his return to Wearside in 2019.

Grant Leadbitter knows a thing or two about the play-offs with Sunderland. (Photo by Charlie Crowhurst/Getty Images)

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The midfielder, who announced his retirement from football in September, was part of Jack Ross’ side who fell dramatically short at the final hurdle against Charlton Athletic in 2019 before last year’s semi-final defeat to Lincoln City.

But as Neil prepares his side for the trip to Yorkshire for the all important second leg, former Cats captain Leadbitter believes the winner from this tie will go on to clinch promotion back to the Championship against either Wycombe Wanderers or MK Dons at Wembley Stadium later this month.

“It’s a tough game for them. It’s two in-form teams in the league heading into the play-offs,” Leadbitter told The Echo.

“It’s two massive clubs. I think Sunderland have got a good chance.

“I think the winner of this tie will go all the way and win promotion, that’s my gut feeling. But it’s a big game.”

Although Leaditter, who will also have a keen eye on developments at Deepdale this afternoon as another of his former sides, Middlesbrough, look to secure their play-off spot in the Championship, was unable to bring promotion success to the Black Cats in recent years, the former midfielder admits there will be nobody happier than him if Neil’s team can get the job done this time around.

“I think they had a sticky patch when Lee left the football club which maybe killed their chances of getting into the top two,” said Leadbitter.

“But look, they’re still there and in the hunt and hopefully they do it this year.

“Nobody would love it more than me to see them get back up there. But it’s got to be right and hopefully the club can get promoted and build from there.”