Paddy McNair’s season-ending injury was a bitter blow but close friend Donald Love has tipped him to bounce back strongly - with the help of Duncan Watmore.
Summer signings Love and McNair have known each other since the age of 12, having both worked their way up through the Manchester United youth academy.
Because of what we have been through, with the injuries we have had this season, the team spirit is very strong hereDONALD LOVE
The pair joined Sunderland in the summer for a combined fee of £5.5million, signing four-year deals.
McNair had just started to show what he could offer Sunderland in a central midfield role before his season was ended prematurely with a serious knee injury.
The 21-year-old had made 12 appearances and was getting a regular run in the side under David Moyes until he was ruled out after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament.
Watmore, who was enjoying his best run of form since breaking into the Sunderland side, also won’t play again until next season.
The England Under-21 international damaged cruciate ligaments in his knee in the win over Leicester City, joining McNair on the long-term injury list.
Love feels for the pair but says they will benefit from having each other to bounce off on the long road back to full fitness.
“We are really close,” Love told the Echo, when asked about McNair.
“He was getting into the team and playing every week and starting to show the Sunderland supporters exactly what he can do.
“It was a tough injury for him. Everyone was gutted for him. I don’t think he realised at first how bad it was.
“We have a tight group, everyone will help him through it.
“He has Duncan with him as well and that will help them both.”
And having Watmore alongside him in the physio rooms and gym at the Academy of Light over the coming months will be important for the Northern Ireland international.
The pair face a long road back to recovery but Love believes having each other as company - and to spur each other on - will help.
Love, 22, added: “Because of what we have been through, with the injuries we have had this season, the team spirit is very strong here.
“Those that are out long-term are still around the building and Duncan Watmore is the most positive person you will meet.
“He is going to keep everyone going!
“Paddy too and hopefully it won’t be too long before we will get Jan Kirchhoff and Gooch back as well,” added Scotland Under-21 international Love.
Midfielder Lynden Gooch is out for several more weeks with ankle ligament damage, while Kirchhoff is out until March.