Duncan Watmore needs leeway and patience from Sunderland fans – just remember Jordan Henderson

Duncan Watmore
Duncan Watmore
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These tedious international breaks always provide time for reflection, and looking back on another fine mess that Sunderland have gotten themselves into, it really is extraordinary how swiftly the narrative clearly changed in the Black Cats dressing room.

On the opening day at Manchester City, there was a calmness and a quiet confidence that Sunderland would be able to build on survival once the much-needed reinforcements arrived. It showed in the performance, despite falling behind inside five minutes.

Watmore is getting a second wind after the momentum from last season’s instant impact inevitably waned.

There was a resilience and a belief that an elusive chance would fall to Jermain Defoe and it would be sufficient to spoil the Pep Guardiola party. It was so close to materialising too.

But within a fortnight, heads were bowed and players had slipped back into that doomed mindset of relegation fodder.

There was happily a dogged determination back on show at Bournemouth, but whether it was David Moyes’ comments about the inevitability of a relegation battle or the unconvincing impact of the summer signings, Sunderland’s body language has been dreadful for much of this campaign.

An Aston Villa-esque mood of resignation has been prevalent.

One of the few exceptions though has been Duncan Watmore.

The enthusiasm of youth can often conquer the cynicism of impending doom - Lynden Gooch has been a similar pocket bundle of non-stop energy - and no matter the futility of the situation, Watmore has continued on those ceaseless attempts to get beyond his opposite number.

It shouldn’t have been a surprise that he covered more ground than any other Sunderland player at Bournemouth and also produced the most high-intensity sprints - a statistic which was always the one most closely monitored by Sam Allardyce.

But the 22-year-old’s commitment has been like that ever since stepping through the door at the Stadium of Light. In a world of some justifiably cynical views on footballers, no one can say a bad word about the England Under-21 international.

However, unwavering effort and dedication is only a benchmark. Quality is equally required in Sunderland’s current plight and Watmore was a frustration on that score in the defining stages of the campaign.

There were too many wrong options picked, too many blind alleys navigated and too many poorly-executed end products.

If Fabio Borini had not succumbed to a lengthy lay-off, then Moyes would surely have taken Watmore out of the firing line.

There is still that hefty element of rawness to Watmore’s game which prompt moans and groans.

But the encouraging aspect is that those first shoots of progress are just beginning to emerge. His first sustained run as a Premier League starter is starting to produce a few signs of polish.

Watmore was the one stretching Bournemouth’s defence as he hogged the right-hand touchline, and it created the space for Victor Anichebe and Jermain Defoe to operate as an orthodox front two.

There were a couple of teasing low crosses which Sunderland should have made more of, but perhaps most encouragingly, he was far less frequently caught in possession.

He’s still a million miles away from the finished article and more patience is going to be needed (if there is any left among battered and bruised supporters) but Watmore is getting a second wind after the momentum from last season’s instant impact inevitably waned.

Most young players have to go through a similar teething process. The adrenaline is pumping when they make their first-team debuts, but when it wears off, the learning process about consistency and improvement begins.

It was similar with Jordan Henderson. Remember the moaning on the terraces when he struggled for several months prior to his departure?

Watmore is going to need plenty of leeway during a transitional period, which may well endure for the entire campaign.

But the huge positive is that whether this sorry season concludes in either relegation or another unlikely survival, Watmore is one player who will be etched into the plans for 2017-18.

There aren’t too many in the Sunderland squad who appear to be in the ‘remain’ camp if the club are back in the Championship. The likes of Lamine Kone, Jordan Pickford, Jermain Defoe and Fabio Borini would be cherry-picked by others. Loan players would return to their parent clubs. Jan Kirchhoff, Seb Larsson and John O’Shea are out-of-contract.

The squad could well be ravaged by departures (although that might not necessarily be a bad thing) and the likes of Watmore and Gooch would be the much-needed continuity options.

If Watmore can get 20-30 Premier League starts under his belt, then that would be a precious boost, whatever league Sunderland are competing in.