Jack Ross has praised Duncan Watmore after he made a successful return to the Sunderland first team in the 2-0 Checkatrade Trophy win over Notts County.
Watmore had been out for the best part of two years with successive ACL knee injuries but was named in the starting line-up at the Stadium of Light.
And he played a key role as Sunderland saw off League Two strugglers Notts County.
A delighted Ross said: “Timing wise, this fixture was ideal for him. He was going to continue his progression with the Under-23s, but when this fixture fell in this week, we had a discussion
and he felt as though he was ready to play and start.
“The biggest compliment I can pay him is that it looked completely natural for him.
“All his decision-making looked natural, it didn’t look as though there was any hesitation to anything he did.
“That’s testament to the work he’s done, but also how patient we’ve all been, him included, to get him back at the right time.
“It’s another huge step forward for him. He’s pretty much there now, which is fantastic for him first and foremost, but also for us as a club.”
It was Watmore’s first Sunderland first team game for over a year, the 24-year-old suffered his second ACL injury in a 2-2 draw with Millwall on November 18, 2017.
Watmore played under an hour for the U23s last week and made his first team return at the Stadium of Light last night, Sunderland extending their unbeaten run to 16.
Ross added: “His rehab path is a really interesting one. He’s had the two injuries pretty close together, and this time we’ve always worked to the absolute latter end of the timescale for him
“We’ve been steadfast in that approach, and I would have continued with that even if we had been struggling for results.
“There’s a duty of care to him, and as a consequence of that, he’s been training with me for nearly eight weeks now, which is a long time. It’s a really good period, and within that period,
he’s done all sorts.
“That just means he’s looked ready, and that was what he looked like. Other than starting to tighten up after an hour, there was nothing else to suggest he had been out for that time period and that is brilliant for him.”