Believe it or not, you can predict a few things in a Premier League season. Perhaps that Newcastle fans will eventually become frustrated with their manager. Maybe the fact that Arsenal fans will be left disappointed after a strong start. But, most likely over recent years, you could predict that Sunderland pull off a great escape every campaign.
A 3-0 victory over Norwich on Saturday kick-started the Black Cats’ annual great escape which has been a recurring factor over the past few seasons. The gap is now just one point, with Sam Allardyce’s men having a game in hand over the side they beat on Saturday, Norwich City.
For one particular player, the fixture at Carrow Road had added significance. Duncan Watmore had never scored away from home in a red and white jersey, a jersey he has featured in after heartbreak at a young age when Man United released the young starlet.
Shoot takes a look at the hot prospect who, in years to come, could be a future senior England international.
Where did it all start for Watmore?
Born in March 1994, it is no big surprise that Watmore had a passion for the beautiful game. His father, Ian, always had a passion for football, but instead had a career in Politics. That was until 2009, when he succeeded Brian Barwick as the Chief Executive of the Football Association after the relationship between the former BBC senior editor and chairman Lord Triesman had “crumbled.”
Despite Watmore’s father being a lifelong Arsenal supporter, he had a passion for Manchester United growing up. So it was classed as a dream come true when, aged eight, Watmore signed for the prestigious youth academy famous for graduates such as David Beckham, Gary Neville and Sir Bobby Charlton. Despite initially showing promise and ability which could have made him a star at Old Trafford, Watmore’s career declined and by the age of 12, he was released.
The dream was over, right? His main focus now being his academic studies at Cheadle Hulme School, an independent school in Stockport. And while he continued to feature for the school team, professional football looked a far reality. Until the age of 16 that is.
What happened next?
The opportunity, coincidentally, came just eight miles away from the historic turf of Old Trafford when in 2012, Altrincham approached the youngster following a successful trial. After a successful loan spell at Northern Premier League side Clitheroe FC, Watmore eventually made the breakthrough into the Altrincham starting XI at the end of the 2011-12 season, making his first appearance off the bench in a re-arranged fixture against Leicestershire side Hinckley Town in front of 434 spectators at the Greene King Stadium.
He would eventually go on to make 11 league appearances in the Conference North for the Lancashire outfit, scoring his first goal for the club on their final game of the season in a 3-2 defeat over Gainsborough, as the Robins finished in a healthy position of eighth following their return to the Conference North.
It was all going so well for Watmore, and by the end of the following season (2012-13) it was clear that the prospect may be on his way out of the Conference North side after he scored 14 goals in 37 league appearances, as well as also impressing in a first round replay over Burton Albion. Cue a move to the Stadium of Light.
How did he do in his early years at the Stadium of Light?
It was May 24, 2013 – just two days after the horrific and unanticipated murder of Lee Rigby – that Watmore shocked the footballing world when he signed for Premier League outfit Sunderland for an undisclosed fee. Here he made an immediate impact with the Under-21 side, winning a penalty in only his second game of the season to earn the young Black Cats three crucial points on a summer evening at the King Power Stadium against a Leicester side which included the likes of former Arsenal defender, Ignasi Miquel, and current Brighton star, Anthony Knockaert.
He continued to shine in Kevin Ball’s Under-21s with arguably his game of the season at this level coming in October when he grabbed the headlines in a fixture of Chelsea, scoring both of Sunderland’s goals.
But despite shining and assisting on frequent occasions to guide the young Black Cats to a healthy position within the Under-21 Premier League, he was still not in Gus Poyet’s plans to feature in the Premier League. Maybe an opportunity out on loan suited the youngster?
His move came in the Scottish Premier League when, in January 2014, he signed a loan deal with Hibernian. Despite suffering injury earlier on at Easter Road, he soon made an impact despite being used most frequently as a substitute. The individual highlight of his time up in Edinburgh was when he scored in a 3-1 defeat over Partick Thistle.
When did he break through into the first team at Sunderland?
His objective for the 2014-15 season, following a successful loan spell in Scotland, surely had to be to make the breakthrough into the Sunderland first team. Despite training with them occasionally, Watmore continued to shine in their Under-21 side, almost single-handedly guiding his team to fourth position in the league, just five points off eventual winners Manchester United. It came as no surprise that he was named the Premier League’s Under-21 Player of the Year, beating off competition such as Chelsea’s Dominic Solanke and Arsenal hot prospect Dan Crowley.
It was now assumed that Watmore would make the step up into the first team at the Stadium of Light and despite not being named in the squad for their opening day defeat at Leicester, Watmore made his Premier League debut when he replaced Steven Fletcher in a 3-1 defeat over Norwich. It was the perfect debut as well when he converted a late goal on 88 minutes. A consolation goal it may have been in a ground half empty following anguish from the terraces at half time, but it would be a goal which will remain ingrained in his memory forever.
Since that summer’s day at the Stadium of Light, Watmore has flirted with the first team frequently and was also able to convert a chance against Stoke in November to score his second goal of the season. After injury struck at Anfield in February, it seemed that Watmore may not have featured again this season for the Black Cats. However, on Saturday, his goal sealed the win against relegation rivals Norwich, opening up the survival race once again.
Was his goal at Carrow Road a surprise?
Maybe. Watmore’s strike against the Canaries was his first goal in a Sunderland shirt since the end of November. However, he did score a consolation goal against Alex Neil’s men in August. His first goal away from home in a Sunderland shirt proves that he can do it on his travels, and it will give the youngster great confidence coming into the final straight of the season.
But some could argue that it was inevitable and it was coming. His performances in the Under-21 side show that he can do it week in, week out. He may just be integral for the Black Cats if they are going to pull off yet another great escape.
Super Stat: Watmore’s strike at Carrow Road was his first away goal for Sunderland.