Cat's Eye View: Duncan Watmore shows why his Sunderland return has had so much hype
It is one of football's enduring turths that you are never a better player than when out of the team.
As a side struggles, those unavailable or ignored grow in stature, their skills magnified and their weaknesses glossed over.
All could be forgiven, then, for approaching Duncan Watmore’s return to the Sunderland team with a sense of excitement but also caution.
What effect might such a long-term injury have had on the player? Does he really possess the ability to thrive in this league, as had been hoped?
It is not wise to read to much into a 35 minute cameo, but Watmore’s performance at Preston on Saturday showed why his return had received so much hype.
The 23-year-old was a menace, never letting the defence settle on the ball.
In a league where most back lines are not as comfortable in possession as in the top tier, a player of his ilk can force fatal mistakes.
He almost did minutes from the end, nicking the ball on the byline and almost teeing up Lee Cattermole for the winner.
The forward also showed his ability to offer a completely different threat to any of his Sunderland team-mates.
Lynden Gooch performed admirably as the second striker, but, like many of his team-mates, he prefers to drop deep and collect the ball, before turning and driving towards the box.
It is a great asset to have, but Watmore’s determination to play on the shoulder forces defences deeper, and he can exploit the space created when James Vaughan draws one centre-back deep for an aerial challenge.
It gives some of Sunderland’s better ball-players an option to go over the top or into the channels, something that has has been badly lacking for much of this season and almost produced a third goal at Deepdale.
Caution with Watmore remains a sensible policy, but it is hard not to be enthused by what he was able to offer.
It’s reassuring, too, that, for arguably the first time this season, Sunderland were able to end the game the better side.
It was no coincidence that this came on the day they named their strongest bench of the campaign, with Grayson able to call on genuinely game-changing options.
WIth Josh Maja and Lewis Grabban soon to return from injury, and Paddy McNair returning in the not-too-distant future, there are very cautious grounds for optimism.