GRANT LEADBITTER intends to lead by example following his appointment as Sunderland captain, and has challenged his team-mates to prove they can handle the pressure of playing for the Black Cats.

Jack Ross handed Leadbitter the captain’s armband in the wake of George Honeyman’s departure to Hull City, and having first represented his hometown club as a fresh-faced teenager some 16 years ago, the 33-year-old regards the promotion as one of the proudest moments of his career.

He will make his first appearance of the season when Sunderland travel to Accrington Stanley in the first round of the Carabao Cup tonight, with the need for a positive result having increased when the Black Cats followed up their opening-day draw against Oxford with another 1-1 result at Ipswich Town last weekend.

It seems ridiculous to talk about mounting pressure just two games into the season, but on the back of May’s failure to win promotion via the play-offs, Ross’ position is increasingly being called into question. Leadbitter accepts that the stakes are always high at Sunderland, but is confident his team-mates have the mettle to cope.

“You’ve got to have big balls to play for Sunderland,” said Leadbitter, who spent seven seasons with Middlesbrough before returning to Wearside in January. “You have to be able to deal the pressure. I had it myself as a young boy.

“This can be a cruel place because you’re playing for a massive football club, but let’s be honest, it’s not cruel really. I’ve done it before. When you play for big football clubs, you expect pressure and you should want that.

“If you don’t want to play with pressure, you shouldn’t be playing for Sunderland. You have to make demands of yourself, and be committed every day you work for the club. You have to have that in you Monday to Friday, it’s no good just turning up on a Saturday and expecting to be able to turn it on.”

Ross selected Leadbitter as a captain partly because of his lifelong affiliation for the club, but chiefly because of the relentlessly committed way he conducts himself both on and off the pitch.

Having been brought up on tales of Kevin Ball’s captaincy in his family home at Fencehouses, Leadbitter cites Dean Whitehead as the most inspirational captain from his first spell as a Sunderland player.

He wore the captain’s armband with distinction at Middlesbrough, and while he freely admits he is not one for ranting and raving, he will making direct demands of the young players breaking into the Sunderland squad.

“As a captain you’ve got a major role to play in the dressing room, but not just in the dressing room, also at the whole of the football club and around the area,” he said. “You’ve got to do things right. I’m not one for shouting and things like that, I’m a big believer that you let your job do the talking and let people follow you like that. It’s all about building a good dressing room, which I’ve always tried to do.”

Not content with filling a ceremonial role for the next nine months, Leadbitter also wants to force his way into Ross’ preferred starting line-up, starting with this evening’s League Cup and Saturday’s crunch League One home game with last season’s promotion rivals, Portsmouth.

“The manager has told me I’m going to play a lot of games this year,” he said. “I think he knows my character, but I also understand that I’m 33 years old. I’m a different player to what I was when I was 27 or 28. I want to play every game, but there’s a lot of games this year.”

The Carabao Cup might figure fairly low down on the list of priorities, but there is a need to start generating some positive momentum after two disappointing performances, even if Leadbitter is adamant it is still much too early to start panicking.

“We know as a group we’ve got to improve the performances,” he said. “I understand we drew far too many games last year. I know from my time at Middlesbrough when we lost the play-off final, the manager at the time knew what we wanted and knew we needed an extra few points along the way.

“With losing the play-off final at the end of last season, we know we’re going to have to cut those draws out and get a few extra wins, and then you get across the line. I’m not stupid. I know what’s needed.”

Denver Hume, Dylan McGeouch and Duncan Watmore are all carrying knocks and will not be involved in this evening’s game.

Sunderland (possible, 4-2-3-1): Burge; C McLaughlin, Baldwin, Ozturk, O’Nien; Leadbitter, Mumba; Embleton, Power, Maguire; Kimpioka.