COMMENT By Will Butcher

Newcastle must battle north-east rivals Sunderland for the signature of Middlesbrough club captain Grant Leadbitter this summer.

The Sun revealed that the 31-year-old midfielder is being eyed by Black Cats boss Simon Grayson, as the former Leeds manager looks to secure an instant return to the Premier League.

It is said that a cut-price deal can be arranged for central midfielder Leadbitter, with only 12 months currently remaining on his contract at the Riverside Stadium.

Sunderland have already brought in a number of proven Championship stars including Lewis Grabban, Aiden McGeady and James Vaughan.

But Grayson is looking to continue his summer recruitment drive with money to spend after selling goalkeeper Jordan Pickford to Everton for £30million.

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However, Rafa Benitez needs cover in central midfield despite luring Mikel Merino to St. James’ Park on loan from Borussia Dortmund and Leadbitter can be that man.

Newcastle need experience in the middle of the park with Isaac Hayden and Merino yet to taste Premier League action, while the under-par performances of Jack Colback are a major cause for concern.

That leaves Jonjo Shelvey as the Toon’s most reliable central midfielder and although Hayden and Merino are likely to be given chances in the first team, having a player you can rely on in England’s top flight is crucial.

Step forward Leadbitter, who has made 79 career appearances in the Premier League from midfield, developing a reputation as a tough-tackling midfielder who possesses the ability to score from long range.

The midfielder has had a hand in 11 goals in the top flight, scoring five and laying on six assists and that ratio of about a goal every eight outings will give the Toon an added attacking dimension from midfield.

But most importantly, it will give the Toon another commanding voice in the dressing room with Leadbitter fully aware of what it takes to avoid relegation.

Signing the experienced midfielder would prove a cheap, but hugely effective deal in Newcastle’s fight for survival, even if he is only used as a bit-part player.

In other Newcastle transfer news, this Toon defender has agreed a loan move.

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