Leadbitter sick of drop zone scraps

Sunderland midfielder determined to avoid another relegation battle next season
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The Independent Online

The Sunderland midfielder Grant Leadbitter is determined not to be involved in an annual fight for Premier League survival.

The 23-year-old local boy and his team-mates head for West Bromwich Albion on Saturday knowing a second successive victory will all but ensure their participation in the top flight for a third season in a row.

But having seen the Wearsiders scrap their way to a 15th-place finish under Roy Keane in their first campaign back in the big time and then struggle to build on that this year with Ricky Sbragia having replaced the Irishman, Leadbitter is desperate for the club to take the next step.

Leadbitter said: "We all want to stay in this league. The Premier League is the best league in the world and everyone wants to play in it. Everyone wants to stay in the league, not just for ourselves and the club, but also for Ricky.

"He is a man-manager and he makes you want to be the best player that you can be. He is popular in the dressing room and we all want him to succeed. We want to stay in the Premier League and then push on next season and make sure we are not fighting relegation again."

Sunderland eased themselves back into 15th place as a result of last weekend's 1-0 home win over Hull, and will run out at The Hawthorns four points ahead of Middlesbrough and five better off than Newcastle inside the drop zone with just five games to go. The victory over the Tigers, who have themselves been sucked into the battle at the foot of the table, was the Black Cats' first in seven attempts and came as a huge relief.

However, Leadbitter knows there is still work to be done, and last Saturday's win will count for little if they do not follow it up with another positive result against Tony Mowbray's side.

He said: "We needed our big-name players to step up against Hull and they did that. It was a vital three points – but it will mean nothing if we don't go to West Brom on Saturday and get something there.

"One result in isolation isn't enough, not at this stage of the season. We have to follow it up and, hopefully, get a four-or five-game run going where we pick up at least a point per game. If we can do that, we will get ourselves safe."

The Baggies have looked destined to return to the Championship for some time, and remain rooted to the foot of the table on 25 points, five adrift of 19th-placed Newcastle.

They have won accolades for the quality of their football, but have been unable to transform that into points.

However, Leadbitter knows Sunderland will be able to take nothing for granted as the Midlanders refuse to give up on their dream. He told the Sunderland Echo: "Everybody thinks West Brom are as good as down, but they are not yet.

"They are still fighting for their lives. You never know what will happen in football – if they can put three or four wins together, then they have to believe they might get out of it.

"It won't be easy on Saturday," he added. "West Brom are a bit unfortunate to be in the situation that they are. I think, of the sides that came up, they are possibly the best footballing side of the three.

"They have shown all season they are capable of scoring goals, but they concede them too, and that is what we have to capitalise on."

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