Sunderland analysis: Sam Allardyce's faith in Duncan Watmore paying off

Ryan Shawcross is sent-off
Ryan Shawcross is sent-off
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There was an easy change Sam Allardyce could have made when Jermain Defoe over-ran the ball and sustained a hamstring injury in the process.

With three attacking options on the bench who each cost £10million or more - Fabio Borini, Jeremain Lens and Adam Johnson - Allardyce had a luxury of experienced internationals from which to pick from.

But instead he turned to the rookie; the guy who appears intent on grabbing more headlines by the game.

That speaks volumes about how highly Allardyce rates Duncan Watmore.

The England Under-21 international is not the finished article, certainly not a Gareth Bale as he was compared to by Jermain Defoe in an interview last week. That much was shown by an awful first touch when he was picked out by Lens' cross at the back post midway through the second half.

Yet Watmore is proving his knack of consistently unsettling defenders at the top level. His unpredictability is causing havoc and the plaudits are inevitably following.

The 21-year-old was the catalyst for a Sunderland victory which could have HUGE repercussions in the relegation battle, not least because of the fixtures which await the Black Cats next month.

From the moment he was introduced, Watmore did what he has done so successfully in the Under-21 set-up - run at defenders head-first and put them on the back foot.

Ryan Shawcross was fortunate to escape without a yellow card when he scythed down Watmore moments before he went in the book.

He was perhaps a touch unfortunate with the second yellow when replays were inconclusive over whether he'd got a slice of the ball, but it all came from Watmore's industry.

That was demonstrated devastatingly when Watmore grabbed Sunderland's second, to allow the Stadium of Light to revel in victory.

But while Watmore and Patrick van Aanholt broke the resistance of a Stoke side, who had kept clean sheets in six of their previous seven games, it was the continuation of Sunderland's defensive improvement which was at the heart of the win.

The last two games have answered a lot of questions about the 3-5-2 set-up. It suits Sunderland, they look infinitely more resilient and well-organised, and crucially, are no longer a soft touch.

Blessed with that solid base, Sunderland have several players at the opposite end of the field who have the potential to be match-winners.

It is the raw, hungry youngster who keeps grabbing the spotlight though.