In the spring of 2014, Sunderland found themselves in a far worse position than they currently do. Written off by pundits, fans and even their own manager – who said they’d need a miracle to survive. As we all know, Sunderland achieved that miracle and pulled off arguably the greatest of great escapes, with Connor Wickham’s inspired run of form being one of the catalysts to survival. We perhaps don’t need a similar amount of divine intervention this time around, but the lads are going to need some inspiration to achieve Sam Allardyce’s target of 38 points and remain in the Premier League nirvana for another year.
To take eight points from five games sounds simple enough but not when you’re a side whose only taken thirty from thirty three. The more options available though, the more chance Sunderland have of going on another great run of late season form. Whilst the usual starting front three of Jermain Defoe, Wahbi Khazri and Fabio Borini has looked dangerous and potent, there hasn’t been much depth behind them. Jeremain Lens has been inconsistent at best, Dame N’Doye has struggled to make an impact and Ola Toivonen has become the forgotten man. With that in mind, it was very pleasing to see Duncan Watmore not just return to action at Norwich but to also look a constant threat going forward and grab himself a goal. Not bad timing, either.
Since Sam Allardyce arrived on Wearside, he’s shown a lot of faith in Watmore. Big Sam gave him his first start (at home to Southampton), showed more willingness to introduce him from the bench than Dick Advocaat and even started him in games such as away to Liverpool, where he picked up his injury. Damage to his ankle ligaments saw Watmore on the sidelines for two months, just as he was becoming a first team regular which will have no doubt frustrated him as much as his manager. So with Watmore once again available for selection, it was hardly surprising to see him named on the bench at Carrow Road.
With Wahbi Khazri having possibly his worst game in a red and white shirt, Allardyce was confident in being able to bring on the Roadrunner for the start of the second half, knowing he’d work hard in defence as well as cause Norwich problem’s going forward. Watmore perhaps should have played in Jermain Defoe during a great burst forward, a naivety which visibly angered Allardyce as it would have put us 3-0 up at the time, but to see him creating such an opportunity through sheer pace and control alone was very exciting.
Despite his performance, you wouldn’t expect Sam Allardyce throw Duncan Watmore into the starting XI for this weekend’s game at home to Arsenal. Jermain Defoe and Fabio Borini are undroppable after their display’s at Carrow Road and would be harsh to bench Wahbi Khazri on the basis of one poor showing. Fitness will also be an issue for Watmore, two months out means he’ll need a couple more weeks to get back up to speed, but he’s certainly the name all fans will be screaming for should Sunderland need to change things on Sunday.
In fact, even if Sunderland are already in a good position, Watmore would still be a good option to freshen things up. We know he can change a game with his direct running, finishing ability and technique but his determination and willingness to chase every ball means he’s just as good an option for when you’re holding onto a lead. As we saw at Norwich too, he’s one of our best players on the break. Against a team like Arsenal, a team that will play on the front foot and potentially give more space to the Sunderland forwards, that could be significant.
It’s about what lies beyond Arsenal as well though. Stoke and Chelsea will operate in a similar fashion and will fancy themselves against a relegation threatened club. By this point Watmore could be close to full fitness and possibly even starting in these games as you never know what form players are going to be in or what system we might be playing. It means we have a different attacking outlet though, a dangerous, enthusiastic, exciting one at that.
We may not need a saviour as badly as we did two years ago and Watmore may not be the one who drags us to safety, in the fashion that Connor Wickham did. Getting to that fabled 38 points mark sounds a much more promising proposition with him back in the squad though.