Sunderland 1 Arsenal 1: Leadbitter finds emotional point

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The Independent Football

Grant Leadbitter spoke afterwards because he felt he had to. In a race towards a microphone, Leadbitter would always, always, be last. He is a throwback footballer who is not in the game for the fame, but he spoke on Saturday evening because the 22 year-old Sunderland-born midfielder had scored an unforgettable goal against Arsenal and marked the strike by kissing a particular piece of the Stadium of Light's turf. Those who work with or know Leadbitter understood.

"People close to me know why I went down on the floor like I did," Leadbitter said, quietly. "I just want to leave it at that. The people who know me, know why I kissed that area of the ground. My dad's ashes were buried there.

"I don't want to go on about it. It just means a lot to me and my family. It's exactly that spot and it was always my intention to do something like that when I scored my first goal here.

"It happened in the summer. He was my dad, so he was obviously a big supporter of mine, but Saturday was not just about me, I didn't want it to be like that. It was about the team. We got the point and that's what matters for Sunderland."

Leadbitter is so private an individual that he was upset his father's death made news locally in the summer. But Brian Leadbitter was known in Sunderland as a fanatic, a home and away man, someone who was at Wembley in 1973.

The ties that bind people to football clubs are sometimes the strongest bond they have. Ashes are scattered across pitches throughout the land but to be a professional player running on to the turf beneath which your father's remains are buried may be a first and must be one definition of agony. "This club means a hell of a lot to Grant," said the Sunderland manager, Roy Keane.

Leadbitter's goal meant a hell of a lot to Keane and Sunderland. So when the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, complained mildly afterwards that Sunderland "gave us the ball and said: 'Do what you want' – they were happy with the 0-0," he was seeing the game through his eyes only. That is his job.

Keane's aim was not lose. A tight first half, with the hosts relinquishing territory, revealed that this would not be a hammering. Then, 11 minutes into the second, Theo Walcott pulled the ball back from the line and Robin van Persie stabbed it in.

The goal would have altered the afternoon as Sunderland would have been forced to attack first and defend second, not the other way round. But the linesman's flag said the ball was out and had he wished, Wenger could have made more of that.

Instead, Wenger saw Leadbitter replace Dwight Yorke, then smash a 25-yarder in off the crossbar. Emotion was high, it looked like a winner. It was the 86th minute. But three minutes into injury-time Cesc Fabregas nodded in from a corner, a point was rescued and Arsenal proved they, too, have a small man big in stature.

Goals: Leadbitter (86) 1-0; Fabregas (90) 1-1.

Sunderland (4-1-4-1): Gordon; Chimbonda, Ferdinand, Collins, McCartney; Yorke (Leadbitter, 84); Malbranque (Chopra, 87), Whithead, Richardson, Reid; Cissé (Murphy, 87). Substitutes not used: Fulop (gk), Bardsley, Healy, Diouf.

Arsenal (4-3-2-1): Almunia; Sagna, Touré, Gallas, Clichy; Denilson (Nasri, 74), Fabregas, Song (Vela, 87); Walcott (Bendtner, 66), Van Persie; Adebayor. Substitutes not used: Fabianski (gk), Silverstre, Djourou, Eboué.

Referee: L Mason (Lancaster).

Booked: Sunderland Whitehead, Richardson, Yorke. Arsenal Clichy, Touré, Bendtner, Adebayor.

Man of the match: Malbranque.

Attendance: 40,199.