Why Simon Grayson will have been impressed with squad players and youngsters in U23 win

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During their long lay-off together, Duncan Watmore admits he and Paddy McNair regularly replicated the one-two at QPR that helped pushed both firmly into the first-team thoughts of David Moyes last season.

That was one of two goals for McNair on a night that signalled he could perhaps have an impact in a more advanced role than many had assumed he would feature in when signed from Manchester United.

Injury stalled that progression but last night, in front of a few hundred fans, he finally restarted the journey.

Fitting, then, that it was Watmore who had a crucial hand in the goal that marked the Northern Irishman’s comeback after 10 long months on the sidelines.

This was nowhere near as neat or aesthetically pleasing as the one in the League Cup at Loftus Road, but it was effective nonetheless.

Watmore stole the ball in the box as he threatened to do all night, his shot well blocked by the advancing Hertha Berlin goalkeeper Leon Bruggemeier. The ball rebounded to the edge of the area where McNair sent a looping header goalwards.

It was just reward for a first half in which Sunderland, while not creating a gluttony of chances, controlled their opening Premier League International Cup group game against a side younger and less powerful.

McNair started quietly, but, as the half progressed, began to show the qualities that highlight why Sunderland manager Simon Grayson eagerly awaits his return.

Physically he was strong, winning headers, dribbling forward with increasing confidence as he began to find space.

Perhaps most encouragingly, on two or three occasions, he almost released Watmore after spotting his moves between the Hertha defenders.

Alongside the tidy Ethan Robson, the trio looked like the first-team players that they are in a composed display.

Watmore’s performance was another that underlined why he ought to be utilised in a more central role this campaign. In truth, the ball never quite broke for him, but the panic he spreads amongst opponents is visible at every level and is refreshing to see a centre-forward who does not give opponents a second on the ball.

That was evident early in the game when he stole the ball and raced through on goal, only to be challenged just as he was set to get the shot away.

The 23-year-old was substituted at half-time after picking up a knock in a firm challenge, but his thumbs-up to the bench before the whistle and the ease with which his movement returned suggests, hopefully, that was merely a precaution.

After the game, coach Elliott Dickman confirmed that was a pre-planned change.

Hertha, it must be said, were nowhere near the level of some of the opponents Sunderland faced in this competition last season, particularly the beguiling Porto side who won the final here in May.

That will prevent any onlookers from getting too carried away with the performance of the returning duo, but it will come as a boost to Grayson to have two young players, who, in so many ways, fit the profile of the type of player he wants in his side, back in the fold.

Watmore, fitness permitting, is surely not far away from a first league start and, judging by his progression over the last month or so, games against Bolton and Middlesbrough might present the perfect opportunity to reintroduce McNair before the next international break.

This was far from a classic at the Stadium of Light, but all over the pitch there were encouraging signs from established and junior players alike.

In the second half, Sunderland were put under severe pressure from the visitors, but stood tall at the back and pinched a second when the exciting Jack Diamond broke into the box and was felled. The penalty was confidently dispatched by impressive captain and centre-back Thomas Beadling.

Brendan Galloway and Jack Rodwell both impressed, the latter seemingly open to the idea of a permanent conversion to the centre-back position. Their performances encouraged, though this contest clearly fell well short of replicating the pressure and physicality of a Championship contest.

The attention now turns in earnest to QPR on Saturday,

McNair will not be involved in that one, nor will Josh Maja, but there were signs here that when he does, he will have a big role to play.

It has been a long time coming, but both he and Watmore look in the mood to pick up exactly where they left off.

Sunderland U23s: Talbot, Love, Rodwell, Beadling, Galloway, Molyneux, E Robson (Gamble 45), Bale, McNair (Diamond 45), Greenwood, Watmore (Nelson 45). Subs not used: Taylor, Woud, Hume, Hackett

Hertha Berlin: Bruggemeier, Klehr, Fuchs, Cakmak, Morack, Mittelstadt, Kauter, Kiprit, Haubitz, Mirbach (Zografakis 67), Beyer.