GRANT LEADBITTER played a pivotal role in Sunderland’s play-off success at Portsmouth on Thursday night – even though his mother had died from cancer just 24 hours earlier.

Leadbitter was given the option of sitting out Sunderland’s decisive second-leg tie at Fratton Park, but opted to play as it was what he felt his family would have wanted.

The midfielder performed superbly as Sunderland secured a goalless draw to book a return trip to Wembley, before his emotions got the better of him at the final whistle.

Leadbitter crouched on his knees as his team-mates celebrated in the immediate aftermath of the game, and returned to the pitch while the rest of the Sunderland squad were in the dressing room to stand alone in the centre-circle for around ten minutes.

A childhood Sunderland fan, Leadbitter’s father, Brian, died in 2008, with his ashes being buried beneath the playing surface at the Stadium of Light.

Speaking on Instagram, Leadbitter said: “Last couple of days have been tough, not just on myself but my two sisters too. To lose my mam on Wednesday was horrible, but I know she is at peace now after a tough battle of cancer.

“She now rests alongside my dad. Life throws you curve balls and we all have to keep fighting.

“I wanted to play last night because my mam and dad would be disappointed if I didn’t. Thanks for your support and kind messages.

“Lastly, the job is far from done. We have one more tough game to go.”