Duncan Watmore on his most encouraging Sunderland performance yet and prospect of a 'special season'

Two goals, almost three years apart.

Wednesday, 23rd January 2019, 9:07 am
Updated Wednesday, 23rd January 2019, 9:13 am
Watmore scored his first goal for almost three years against Norwich City

When Duncan Watmore scored against Norwich City in April 2016, it rounded of a win that lit a fire under Sunderland's survival hopes.

The club seemed to be moving back in the right direction and Watmore had underlined his promise.

Watmore scored his first goal for almost three years against Norwich City

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The atmosphere against Manchester City U21s may have been more sedate, the tempo of the game a little lower, but getting back on the scoresheet must have felt just as good.

Elation? Joy?

A mix of both, says Watmore.

This was an important night for the 24-year-old and not just because of that good finish, firing into the bottom corner after reacting quickest in the box.

Both he and Jack Ross have been absolutely consistent in playing down any expectations as he makes his second comeback from an ACL injury.

Understandably, it is taking Watmore time to get up to his best level.

It may be months away yet.

Ross has for used Watmore as a central striker, protecting his body from the strain of racing up and down the wing.

Against Man City, though, Watmore was able to do that with relish.

He gave the young left flank a torrid time, both in attack and defence.

He is keeping his feet on the ground but has every right to take encouragement from his best hour of the season yet.

“When I was playing before probably one of my main strengths was that defensively I could always get back and help the team and I always want to be able to do that," he said.

"But physically sometimes it's difficult when you're coming back, and you can't make the runs you want to be making every minute of the game.

“On Tuesday I felt a bit better in that respect, I felt I could get back, then get back upfield. I enjoyed that aspect of it."

His workload will continue to be managed carefully and Watmore is a willing listener when it comes to the message of patience from Ross.

“It's tricky because part of me obviously wants to be playing, but then part of me knows I had a recurrence of this injury and I can't afford to do it again, so my sensible self is telling me I need to take it easy," he said.

"I have to listen to that because I know my body's not at a stage where I can play week in, week out – it's just not. After two years out it takes a lot more out than probably people realise and I'm just not at the level where I want to be but I'm doing everything I can to get to that level. It comes from playing games and getting as many minutes as possible.

“The manager been brilliant like that and there's probably been a lot less of that, and the pressure I put on myself because I’ve realised after the last time these injuries are very serious and can end my career so I've got to take it very seriously and I can't just expect to be at the level I was at before.

"It's always good to know that the manager's not putting pressure on me, and whenever possible I want to contribute wherever I can and give everything I got.

"Wherever possible I'll try to make an impact and do whatever is needed for the team."

After this 2-0 win Jack Ross had a message for his players.

It has been a testing few weeks for them but when they come back from the break, there is a chance to do something special.

No one knows that better than Watmore and even if he knows his role may not be a central one, he is relishing it.

“It's very exciting," he said.

"I've never played at Wembley and it's something I would love to experience and I'm sure that's the same for many of the lads in the dressing room.

“It's a really nice, unexpected surprise for this season to get the chance to play in this competition and we've done it well. Everyone's taken it very seriously and as a result we're one game from Wembley. It will be tough but everyone's excited for the opportunity.

“It's obviously been a pretty miserable couple of years personally with my injury and the relegations and it's been a dark couple of years but I'm looking forward and the positivity around the place now and the challenges and the opportunities we have in the next three or four months are something that as a footballer you've got to be excited about."