LEE CATTERMOLE is set to return to Sunderland’s starting line-up this afternoon – and Jack Ross expects the experienced midfielder to play a pivotal role in the final five games of the season.

Cattermole has been sidelined since damaging his ankle in last month’s 2-1 win over Walsall, and while he returned to the matchday squad for last weekend’s dramatic home defeat to Coventry City, he was not fully fit and did not leave the substitutes’ bench.

He has been able to take part in full training this week, and having watched his side ship five goals as they suffered their first home defeat of the season six days ago, Ross is set to restore him to the starting line-up in an attempt to add some solidity to his side’s midfield.

Cattermole’s tough-tackling approach might have made a difference last weekend, with Coventry’s attacking-midfielders repeatedly breaking on to the Sunderland back four, and as well as contributing via his own performance in the remaining five matches, Ross expects the Stockton-born midfielder to have a positive influence on those around him.

“Lee’s been very important for us this season,” said the Sunderland boss. “He can deal with the pressure of these kind of games, no problem, but he’s also a good influence on the players around him.

“He sees the game well from on the park, and people maybe don’t realise just how much influence a player can have on the pitch. They don’t change tactics, but they can pull people around and drag them about, and pass on information, and that’s what Lee is great at. He gets the best from other players when he’s out there.”

Cattermole’s return is unlikely to be Ross’ only alteration to last weekend’s starting side, with Jack Baldwin and Tom Flanagan both at risk. Jimmy Dunne, Alim Ozturk and Glenn Loovens are alternative options if Ross opts to shuffle his back four.

Chris Maguire could also make his first start since mid-February after recovering from a fractured fibula, with Will Grigg likely to make way. Aiden McGeady will be given every possible opportunity to prove his wellbeing, but the Irishman continues to struggle with a long-term foot problem.

Sunderland head into today’s game knowing they will be guaranteed automatic promotion if they win their remaining five matches, although Doncaster have plenty to play for themselves as they chase a play-off place.

Grant McCann’s side currently occupy sixth position, but have played a game more than seventh-placed Peterborough United, who currently trail them by five points.

Peterborough are Sunderland’s next opponents on Easter Monday, and with a game against Portsmouth still to come, three of the Black Cats’ final five opponents currently sit in the top seven positions in the table.

That brings its own challenge, but Sunderland have tended to raise their game against the leading sides in the league this season.

“We’ve found every game this season challenging for different reasons, but I do maintain that our performances by and large have been better against the teams around us,” said Ross. “I think the fact we’re playing against a good team who will try to win the game will suit us. Doncaster are a good side, and we had to work hard to get a result in the game down there.”

Sunderland (possible, 4-2-3-1): McLaughlin; O’Nien, Flanagan, Dunne, Oviedo; Cattermole, Leadbitter; Honeyman, Maguire, Morgan; Wyke.