Sunderland’s Watmore fails to shine on full debut but Black Cats must tie him down to new deal

Duncan Watmore on his full Sunderland debut
Duncan Watmore on his full Sunderland debut
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Duncan Watmore has had to be patient for his chance to shine in the Sunderland first team.

Rave reviews and a hatful of goals in the Under-21 league has resulted in a regular place on the first team bench and regular call-ups for England’s Under 21 side.

Watmore looked raw on his full Premier League bow but much brighter days are surely not too far away.

But he hadn’t started a game for the Black Cats until Southampton came calling on Saturday.

The overwhelming reaction from Sunderland fans was positive, keen to see how the ex-Altrincham man would fare in the more familiar 4-2-3-1 formation.

There was no starting place for big summer signings Jeremain Lens - who hasn’t played a minute in the last two matches - or Fabio Borini, back from injury.

A big call by Sam Allardyce.

It also meant Jermain Defoe was once again dropped to the bench despite scoring and linking up well with Steven Fletcher in the 6-2 hammering at Everton.

While Defoe was left to contemplate from the comfort of the bench, Watmore’s mood was at the other end of the spectrum.

The 21-year-old forward impressed when he came on at Goodison Park, sufficiently so that Allardyce had no hesitation in throwing him in from the start against the Saints.

It had been a long time coming for Watmore, who had to be patient to make his mark under former managers Gus Poyet and Dick Advocaat.

Afforded a warm welcome from the 41,000 fans inside the Stadium of Light, Watmore - one of four changes - started brightly.

With pace and purpose down the left-flank he won a corner with his first touch.

The crowd were on their feet. Sadly, Watmore’s afternoon faded from there.

The opening 45 minutes were dire and Watmore - like the rest of the Black Cats forward line - struggled to build any rhythm or fluency against a Southampton side that are yet to be beaten away from home.

Against Everton, Sunderland looked inventive and dangerous on the break. Against Southampton, Allardyce had set the side up not to be beaten and the attacking threat was curbed as a result.

Watmore had marked his Premier League debut from the bench earlier in the season with a consolation goal for the Black Cats against Norwich City.

But he never looked in danger of troubling the scorers against the Saints, managing one shot on target in the second half but the linesman’s flag was already up.

It was a tough afternoon for the youngster, who managed to complete the full 90 minutes.

He showed flashes and produced a couple of bursting runs to move Sunderland up the other end of the pitch.

But as Allardyce told the press pack afterwards, Watmore - and his teammates - failed to produce “any real quality”.

While the performance and result wasn’t up to standard, it was still a proud day for the Watmore family.

And last season’s Barclays U21 Premier League Player of the Year will no doubt go on to forge a successful career in the top flight.

It should come as no surprise that Watmore’s promotion to the starting line-up came so soon after the promotion of former Under-21 coach Robbie Stockdale to Allardyce’s backroom team.

Respected Stockdale will be championing his cause.

And top of Sunderland’s ‘To-Do’ list over the international break, aside from finding a system that gets the best out of the team, is tying Watmore down to a new long-term deal.

Talks with those senior pros out of contract next summer are on hold until the Black Cats’ status in the top flight is secured.

Watmore is an exception though.

He is highly-regarded and seen as a top prospect within the club, while there is interest too from several Premier League and Championship clubs.

His deal expires in the summer but he is keen to stay.

A pay rise and assurances that he will be a regular member of the first team squad will be on the agenda.

Either way, Sunderland must get the deal done. And quickly.

Watmore looked raw on his full Premier League bow but much brighter days are surely not too far away.