SUNDERLAND manager Jack Ross believes Grant Leadbitter has already proven he is in the right frame of mind to cope with a League One promotion decider at Wembley so soon after losing his mum, having displayed the full extent of his strength of character in the play-off semi-final.

Leadbitter stunned Wearside and beyond a week ago when he turned in a stirring midfield performance to help the Black Cats overcome Portsmouth, just 24 hours after his mum, Susan, lost her battle with cancer.

The 33-year-old was heartbroken and still managed to keep the situation a secret from his team-mates after informing his manager and team captain George Honeyman before the trip to Portsmouth for the second leg.

Now Leadbitter is hoping to keep his place at Wembley on Sunday against Charlton to help Sunderland, who both of his late parents supported, return to the Championship – the first target he set out when he moved left Middlesbrough in January.

Ross said: “Not just because of what has happened recently, but Grant has wanted to bring success back to this club, that has been evident since I spoke to him when I knew we had a chance of bringing him here.

“It is well documented his affection for the club, his family’s affection for the club, and it is reflected in how he goes about his business every single day here.

“Even in the recent period when he was out of the team. For three or four games, his influence around the changing room, in training, he would always put his own disappointment to one side because he is determined to play a part for the club, hopefully, in climbing back up the ladder.”

Leadbitter is in his second spell with Sunderland and it was during his first stint that his father, Brian, had his ashes buried at the Stadium of Light after he died aged 50 in a tragic accident.

Both parents used to travel to away games on coaches and Leadbitter went down to the infamous Wembley play-off final in 1998 as a supporter with them when Sunderland lost dramatically on penalties after a 4-4 draw.

He returned to the North-East in tears that day, so Sunday’s repeat play-off final fixture against the Addicks is sure to be an occasion that pulls on the heart strings for the passionate midfielder.

Ross said: “There is a lot involved for Grant emotionally in this game but his experience is often strong enough to detach that a little to make sure he focuses on the job.

“He will need that element of emotion and if you watch the last five or six minutes at Portsmouth, some of the challenges he was involved in, and see how he reacted, at that point he was emotionally invested, knowing we were very close to winning the game.”

And Ross recalled how he never had any doubt in Leadbitter’s ability to shine once the player himself had told him he was keen to play.

The Sunderland manager said: “I was aware of what had happened, Grant spoke to me on the Wednesday morning. Other than us having a conversation, to make sure he was OK, I trust him and he gave a performance he can be proud of and his family can be proud of.

“That’s the vital thing for him. He’s really focused on having a productive end to the season.”

Sunderland manager Jack Ross continued: "It’s a difficult time for Grant personally but it is testament to his strength of character that he was able to produce a performance like that under those circumstances.

“I didn’t think he would have played any differently. If I had done I wouldn’t have played him, so it goes back to that trust.  "Not just because I have got to know him as a player and person since he came to the club, but just the conversation he had with me before the game. I knew from looking at him, the way he spoke to me, that he was ready to play. He wanted to play.”

If Leadbitter does retain his place at Wembley then Sunderland will be looking for him – and the rest of his team-mates – to show the sort of spirit and desire that was so evident at Fratton Park last Thursday.

And it looks as if there will be a shuffling of the pack at some level because Aiden McGeady looks set to slot back into the team after a few weeks rest.

The Irish winger missed both legs against Portsmouth because of the foot problem that has prevented him from playing since April 27. It is still not entirely rectified, however there is a growing confidence he will be fit to figure and having top scored and assisted this season, Sunderland known how important he can be.

Ross said: “Aiden has a chance. The two weeks break he has had from being unavailable for the first leg has helped him.  “He needed a prolonged rest. He won’t get that until the summer, but this break has helped him. We are building his workload up over this week. We will give him every chance because over the course of this season he has been hugely influential for us.”

The end of Ross’ first season in charge at Sunderland is now in sight and he is desperate to achieve the promotion target that was set 12 months ago – and there are no other injury concerns ahead of facing the Addicks.

He said: “It has been a long season, there has been a year since Stewart Donald took ownership, not long after that I took the job. It has been a long year in that respect but a fruitful one if we can win on Sunday.  “The way the season ended, we suffered the disappointment of not achieving automatic promotion but it allowed us to regroup.  "It gave us a period to do that. The last couple of weeks have been enjoyable, it is reflective of the mood amongst the players.  “I don’t know if it is because we have been at Wembley already, but they are focused and calm, the mood is good.  "Ultimately it will only be an advantage that we have already been at Wembley this season if we win the game. For my own group of players there is a familiarity. It is unusual that you go back to Wembley in the same season. It will stand us in good stead, even if that will not be the reason why we win if we do.”