Duncan Watmore opens up on Sunderland return, comeback challenges and the England star who provided crucial inspiration

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As half-time approached, the crowd at Eppleton winced.

Duncan Watmore had made a trademark surge into space and the tackle to scythe him down was as dangerous as it was cynical.

Duncan Watmore made his Sunderland return on Monday night

Duncan Watmore made his Sunderland return on Monday night

Watmore got up, dusted himself down, and even came back for another 15 minutes in the second half.

The 25-year-old has had seven weeks in full training with the first team but this kind of moment cannot be replicated.

To get through it is a big hurdle cleared and while a missed penalty took some gloss off the night for Watmore, this was without a doubt an occasion to relish.

His tenacity and pace were as you would expect.

As Jack Ross said earlier on Monday, get this out the way and he would be 'pretty much there'.

It certainly looked that way.

"Physically, I felt good in the game," Watmore said.

"I've done so many rehab and training sessions, physically I feel very good.

"Games is obviously a very different matter, a different intensity.

"But in terms of the knee and everything, I felt really good with it.

"There were three or four lunges in on me, a couple of swipes out," he added.

"You can't really recreate that in training, it's going to happen when you have the intensity of a game.

"The way I play as well, it's going to happen.

"I've got to get used to it and it'll do me absolutely no harm to come through that.

"I don't feel like I've lost any pace, I feel sharp, strong.

"We've done loads of good work with all the guys.

"I'm disappointed to miss the penalty and lose the game, but in terms of myself, I can't be too ambitious, I just need to take it step by step.

"But I would have loved to scored that penalty and helped the team get three points."

Watmore and manager Jack Ross will now assess how he comes through this first competitive challenge.

There is another U23 game next Monday should he need it, while the Checkatrade Trophy clash against Notts County on the Tuesday could offer a chance of a first team return.

The pair quickly forged a strong relationship in the summer, Watmore one of the first people Ross met when he arrived at the club.

For both, there has been a resolve not to push the forward and to ensure that when he's back, he's back.

But there is no hiding how eager Ross is to have him back in his ranks.

On more than occasion this season he has bemoaned the lack of a different option in forward areas, a player whose first instinct is to stretch the game.

Not long ago, he joked that the ideal scenario would be to get Watmore fit and then clone him.

Watmore is appreciative of the support he has had from Ross and completely echoes his sentiments regarding his return.

"The gaffer has been fantastic with me, as have all the coaches," he said.

"They've been so patient with me.

"They basically said to me, they've got a duty of care to me and they want to make sure I'm 100% when I come back, because I'm a young guy with a long career ahead of me.

"The fact that he's liked that, not forcing me back, looking after my own interests, I'm really grateful for that.

"It is 100% about getting the balance.

"I want to play but the more patient I am, the better it will be for the team in the long run," he added.

"I know I've got to look after myself. The way I play, I find it hard to hold back. I want to get the ball, I want to run, I want to take people on.

"As we saw tonight, people are always going to try and tackle me and sometimes I'm going to face big challenges, that's just the way I play.

"I've got to play it as a normal game to the best of my ability. Try and forget about the past, because I've done all I can now.

"I've done all the rehab work, I've had the best surgeon, the best physios, the best sports scientists.

"Everything has been perfect for the knee."

Watmore made a strong return to action last season, but on his sixth appearance the ACL injury struck again.

Mentally that has posed a stern challenge but Watmore is doing his best not to let that shadow hang over this latest comeback.

Two ACL injuries would once have put a career under threat but that is not the case anymore and the on the day that Watmore suffered his cruel recurrence, Bournemouth were putting Huddersfield to the sword in a 4-0 victory.

Callum Wilson, who went through the same ordeal as Watmore, scored a hat-trick and has only got stronger from there.

Earlier this month, he scored on his England debut.

Watmore is candid enough to admit that it will be a long time before he recaptures the form that made him of the Premier League's brightest prospects, but he knows he can make a contribution.

"I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a psychological hurdle," Watmore said.

"12 months out of the game is a horrible feeling.

"Being injured is so,much harder than being fit, the work you put in. Psychologically as well, I've experienced it and know how difficult it is.

"I don't ever want that to happen again but at the same time, I try not to think about.

"I try to stay positive, I've done everything I can so you can't worry about it happening again.

"You look at what Callum Wilson has done," he added.

"He actually scored a hat-trick the day I did my second one.

"When you do your second one and you see a guy do that, it feels like a sign that you can get through it.

"I've always had that mentality.

"I'm very confident, but it will take time.

"It's pretty much been two years out, it's such a long time. I've got to be realistic with myself and say this season I probably won't hit the levels I reached before my injury.

"I'll do everything I can to get to those levels, but be realistic, manage myself and contribute to the team whenever I can."