SUNDERLAND defender Tom Flanagan has rubbished Lewis Morgan’s attack on his former team-mates and claims there were splits in Phil Parkinson’s camp.

The former Celtic winger, now with Inter Miami and signed on loan by Jack Ross two years ago, claimed there were cliques in the Stadium of Light dressing room and that players were ‘scared’ of Aiden McGeady.

But after an emotional show of unity to celebrate Grant Leadbitter’s late penalty, defender Flanagan defended the Sunderland squad who he says, are determined to win promotion this season.

Flanagan said: “The dressing room is as good as it has ever been. We are a tight-knit group, no matter what anyone outside or who leaves the clubs says. It’s the easiest thing in the world to say negative things when you’ve left somewhere. If you said it is the best place in the world, you’d look silly in the dressing room you’re in now.

“We are not worried about cliques. Some people in the dressing room get on better than others. That is like any other work place. There is a lot has been made of it but at the end of the day we spend a lot of time with each other.

“It is better this year because last season got cut short and we failed to get where we wanted to be and it is has dawned on us now that we have to get there this season. So rather than the dressing room changing, I think there is a realisation.”

The last time Leadbitter scored at the Stadium of Light, he jogged over to the spot where he had scattered his father Brian’s ashes just a few months earlier, placed his fingers to his lips and touched the ground.

That was ten years ago. So when he turned to his team-mates, the likes of Kenwyne Jones, Phil Bardsley, Djbril Cisse and Andy Reid embraced him and celebrated Sunderland’s equaliser in a 2-1 home defeat to Wigan in the abysmal 2018/19 season.

After a decade on the road with Ipswich Town and Middlesbrough, much has changed for Leadbitter and his home-town club, and not least the Stadium of Light.

Leadbitter’s home of football was of course virtually empty as his crisp 81st minute penalty slapped the back of Peterborough keeper Christy Pym’s net, before echoing to the expletive sounds of Posh boss Darren Ferguson’s reaction to referee Scott Oldham’s decision to penalise Jack Taylor for his trip on Denver Hume.

Leadbitter had grabbed the ball, stepped away from the Peterborough protests over the proximity of the foul to the penalty area before calmly giving Pym absolutely no chance from the spot.

Sunderland supporters, not least his family, would have wept buckets as Leadbitter repeated the emotional ritual of ten years ago and headed to the grassy area beside the halfway line and tunnel to pay his respects to his Sunderland-daft dad.

And you could tell this goal meant so much more; to Leadbitter, to his team-mates, to his manager, and every absent Sunderland supporter.

When he turned back to the pitch this time, the normally reserved 34-year-old was surrounded by the enthusiastic young pups (and Danny Graham) that Phil Parkinson has assembled to get Sunderland out of League One.

The return to Sunderland has not been straight-forward for Leadbitter but he looks refreshed after his self-imposed break from the game and clearly determined to play his part in the club’s promotion drive.

Flanagan said: “It was.a crucial goal and I think that was more what the celebration was about. All goals are big goals, but the boys knew that it was great for Grant to score and also a great time to score. We know the tough time he has been through and how hard he has worked through it. When he came back, he didn’t wanted a sob story, he didn’t wanted an arm round him, he came back in, did his work and got himself in the team. He deserves to get the plaudits and he deserved the goal.”

Sunderland had to survive a few scares and Ferguson was right to feel aggrieved he left Wearside empty-handed. Sammie Szmodics smashed a free-kick against the bar and Lee Burge made good saves to deny Siriki Dembele and Jonson Clark-Harris.

The hosts had chances too, but Aiden O’Brien headed over and Pym saved from Charlie Wyke and Chris Maguire, whose early exit is not deemed serious.