GEORGE HONEYMAN is proud to have played a central role in Sunderland’s rebuilding this season – now the Black Cats captain wants to sign off for the summer in style by winning promotion at Wembley.

Honeyman took over the captain’s armband last summer, with Jack Ross identifying him as the ideal person to lead Sunderland’s League One promotion push even though he was much less experienced than a number of his colleagues.

Ross’ faith has been justified, with Honeyman’s driven performances on the pitch complementing his astute leadership in the dressing room.

Having first joined Sunderland’s academy at the age of ten, the North-Easterner’s pain at last season’s relegation was apparent from his appearances in the ‘Sunderland Tie I Die’ Netflix documentary.

He spoke eloquently on camera about his desire to put things right, and while the Black Cats might have missed out on automatic promotion when they could only finish fifth in the table, Sunday’s play-off final against Charlton Athletic offers an opportunity to achieve the pre-season ambition of making an immediate return to the second tier.

“To think we have a one-off game to get promotion, we would have snapped your hand off for it in pre-season,” said Honeyman. “From back-to-back relegations and finishing bottom of the table - I know that was the Premier League and Championship, but it was a negative, losing culture.

“As a football club, we have to be realistic, and for it to have turned like this in ten months and to have one-off shot to win promotion is fantastic. Two trips to Wembley? Everyone at the club has to be so proud.”

That pride was evident in the post-match celebrations that followed Sunderland’s aggregate success at Fratton Park on Thursday night, but while there was understandable satisfaction at making it to the final, there was also an immediate acknowledgement that the job is not yet done.

Having inherited a squad that was riven with divisions and struggling to turn around a losing culture, one of Ross’ biggest achievements on Wearside is the way in which he has rebuilt team spirit and engendered a renewed sense of pride in wearing the red-and-white shirt.

Like his team-mates, Honeyman has willingly bought in to that sense of belonging, and a willingness to sacrifice individual glory for team success was evident in the disciplined, professional performance that resulted in Sunderland’s aggregate victory on Thursday night.

Whereas previous Sunderland sides would have wilted in the face of a hostile Fratton Park atmosphere, the current squad stood up to be counted, an attitude that augurs well ahead of this weekend’s return to Wembley.

“You can see that spirit, and I think it comes from the characters we’ve brought into the club,” said Honeyman. “The manager, the new owners, the players – everyone who have come in are good people, and there were already really good people here.

“We had a really good backroom staff with people like Craig Russell and Peter Brand, all of these sort of people who help make a club. They've always been there, but it's been too imbalanced with not enough people that care about the club. Now, we have a proper balance of people who want to see Sunderland achieve success.

“It's just a nice place to be, and it's something that the club have to really build on because if we get it right, we can go on and have a successful few years with the football club.”

The first priority is to see off Charlton, with the Addicks having booked their place at Wembley with a dramatic penalty shoot-out win over Doncaster Rovers on Friday night.

Charlton will hope to draw inspiration from 1998’s incredible Division One play-off final success over Sunderland, but Honeyman and his team-mates have a much more recent Wembley experience that could work in their favour.

March’s Checkatrade Trophy final against Portsmouth might have ended in the disappointment of losing on penalties, but having played at Wembley less than two months ago, Sunderland’s players will not be fazed by their return visit to the national stadium this weekend.

“I don't think it’s the be-all and end-all, but I think it can only help,” said Honeyman. “It wasn't like we froze in the headlights when we there last time, in fact the first half was probably one of our best performances of the season.

“To be able to draw on that experience should help us, and I don't think there's been a big game all season where we have frozen or not performed, so I take great comfort from taking that into the play-off final.”

That big-game record could be crucial, and Sunderland will also take comfort from their record against Charlton this season, having claimed a win and a draw from their matches against the Addicks.

“We only lost five (league) games all season, and two of them were the last couple when we knew our fate anyway,” said Honeyman. “They were tough games to play in against teams that were fighting for everything, when we realistically had nothing to fight for.

“I'm always very confident in us as a squad that when we know our fate and we know who we're playing and what the fall-out is, that we are going to produce. I think we have all season in big games.

“I'm so happy and proud for everyone in the club, and now I just want to finish it off and lift some silverware at the end of what has already been a successful season.”