Sunderland youngster reflects on Vicarage Road debut, watching Defoe score against Newcastle and hoping to emulate Duncan Watmore

Rees Greenwood in action for Sunderland
Rees Greenwood in action for Sunderland
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Another reason to celebrate on a day that will not easily be forgotten.

Sunderland fans were in even greater voice than usual, basking in the glow of another great escape, Vicarage Road bathed in early summer sunshine.

The Black Cats were looking to a bright new future.

Star men were rested, but a draw was well deserved. Duncan Watmore and Jordan Pickford took the latest steps on their breakthrough, Rees Greenwood and Tommy Robson took their first.

With the Black Cats since eight, it was the day Greenwood had run through his head over and over.

The memories of May 15 last year are vivid: “I’ll never forget it, it is something to look back to and to use for the future, because I want that every week.

“Before that, I had travelled with the first team, for a few weeks, I just hadn’t made the bench, so I had learned a bit from being around the squad. I went to St James’s Park for the derby, which was amazing.

“I was sitting among Newcastle fans as well, you were getting some abuse but that was to be expected.

“I thought we were going to win, I thought we deserved it – I did celebrate Jermain’s goal! Going to Vicarage Road and playing was just another level.

“Right before the game, Seb Larsson came over to me and Tommy [Robson], who were both playing.

“He said ‘look I’ve watched you both play, I’ve played with you this year, just play how you normally play’.

“For a top international, a Premier League player, to come over and say that was a big boost for us.

“It was a great day – there was no pressure on so we could just go and play with freedom.

“The fans were just amazing. You can them hear them when you go out at the start, but once you’re in the game you do tend to block it out, but they went from the first to the last minute.”

What has happened since has undoubtedly been a source of great frustration for Greenwood.

First-team opportunities have not materialised.

The arrival of a new manager and an injury crisis has been good for many of the club’s youngsters, but not the winger, who went through ankle problems of his own.

The 21-year-old has seen the reception his team-mates have received and still harbours hope of getting a greater taste of it hismelf.

“The injury was really the first I’ve ever had, so it was a good learning curve. It was just a case of getting through it, trying to come back stronger, getting through loads of gym work which I needed,” he said.

“It is quite frustrating watching the other players go up, you know they deserve it but you want to be there with them.

“The fans love seeing young lads come through and doing well, they get behind them 100%. Duncan, Jordan, Lynden, George, they all get a great reception and the fans get behind them.

“It just makes you want to be a part of that even more.”

There is still time for a season of frustration to end on a high. Greenwood will be a key player in the Under-23s’ International Cup final against Porto on May 17, his delicious assist for Joel Asoro in the semi-final against Norwich getting tongues wagging on social media.

Going forward, a potential relegation out of the Premier League may offer first-team opportunities. The turnover will be massive, and the Black Cats will need a big squad to cope with the demands of the country’s toughest league.

So how can the winger make the jump? For Greenwood, a Sunderland team-mate is a guiding light.

He said: “I think I’ve got a lot better off the ball, but I need to add more goals to my game.

“I just need to be more clinical in front of goal – I’m doing OK when it comes to providing them, but I need to chip in more myself.

“If I can do that, then maybe I can do what Duncan has done.”