GRANT LEADBITTER was the oldest player on the pitch and also the best as he justified his selection in Sunderland’s important first league win of the season.

The 33-year-old made his presence felt in midfield during Saturday’s success against Portsmouth, it was from his corner that Jordan Willis equalised and manager Jack Ross lavished praise on him at full-time.

Ross had overlooked him for the first two league games, restricted to a watching brief as an unused substitute as Sunderland toiled in draws with Oxford United and Ipswich Town, before getting a run out in the Carabao Cup tie last Tuesday at Accrington Stanley.

Max Power was also recalled for that game, and, having beaten Accrington, Ross kept the two together with summer signing George Dobson staying on the bench.

They did not let down the manager, and, in reference to Leadbitter, Ross said: “He had a big influence on today’s game. He has influence that perhaps others don’t see, he pulls people around and makes demands of other people. He was hugely important.

“Grant, we know how much passion he has for the football club, and he has assumed greater responsibility with taking on the captaincy.

“He also knows the strength of competition for places in that area of the pitch.

“Max and Grant had the opportunity to play on Tuesday in the League Cup, they recognised they had to play well, they did that and that’s why they deserved to start again. What they did was replicate that performance.

“Grant has looked fit and strong. We worked hard in pre-season, it was tough, and there was no letting up from him despite him being in the latter part of his career.”

Dobson did not get on the pitch for the first time since being brought to the club from Walsall, while youth team product Denver Hume also missed out on the starting XI having played in each of the first two league games.

Dobson’s time will come again, and Ross retains confidence in Hume too.

The manager said: “We brought George to the club and thought he might be a slow burner, although he’s played a lot of games, in terms of adjusting. But he hit the ground running in terms of performance level.

“He’ll back himself to play, like Luke did, and he’ll get opportunities play.

“We stressed that to the players post-match. We’ve got eight games in August so we’re going to need the squad over that period.”

Left-back Hume was substituted a week earlier away to Ipswich Town, a game in which almost every Sunderland player was poor, while he was used as a late substitute against Portsmouth, replacing Chris Maguire, as an under-pressure Sunderland required strengthening.

Ross added: “We have responsibility to look after him properly. He’s only started ten competitive games in his career, so he’s still a young man learning the game.

“He’ll learn from last week when he had a tough afternoon, he’ll have more of them, that’s the nature of football, it’s about how he responds to it.

“He knows we have enough faith in him to come on in the last part of the game, which at that time was difficult for us, we were under a bit of pressure and he contributed to help us win the game.”

Maguire made an impact on Saturday, his winning goal being his first strike of the season, before later being substituted having just been booked by referee Michael Salisbury.

Ross said: “Chris always backs himself to play, he has ability to be in my team every week, but he needs to match it with his workrate and application and he did that terrifically well today.

“He’s a difficult player to play against when he’s like that.”