SEASONED old heads are invaluable in handling the constant anxiety of the relegation dogfight.
It’s where Sunderland are well-served, particularly with so many survivors from last year’s Great Escape.
Watmore was bright in his first start for the Under-21s since recovering from a broken leg; constantly stretching the West Ham defence, winning the penalty for the opener and then cementing the victory with a superb goal.
But on the flip side of the coin, youngsters can have no fear. They have not yet seen the repercussions of competitive football and often bring a bright-eyed freshness to proceedings.
With Gus Poyet – a spectator at Eppleton CW for Sunderland Under-21s’ 3-0 win over West Ham – not exactly blessed by the biggest of squads and now without the suspended Lee Cattermole for the next two games, opportunity perhaps knocks during the relegation run-in.
The likes of Duncan Watmore, Liam Agnew and Martin Smith – who have all been in or around the first-team squad this season – didn’t do their chances any harm during an entertaining victory over the Hammers.
Watmore, an unused substitute at Manchester United, was bright in his first start for the Under-21s since recovering from a broken leg; constantly stretching the West Ham defence, winning the penalty for the opener and then cementing the victory with a superb goal.
Agnew did the Sunderland defensive-midfield role neatly, while 18-year-old Rees Greenwood also caught the eye on the opposite flank to Watmore, before netting the third in the last minute.
But despite Sunderland emerging victorious, they had to survive a couple of first half near-misses before getting their noses in front.
The Hammers came close to striking the first blow inside the opening five minutes when the powerful Jordan Brown cut inside from the left-hand side of the area before curling a right-foot shot towards the far corner, which was pushed away by Joel Dixon.
Sunderland had another lucky escape in the 25th minute when Dixon badly flapped Joe Powell’s inswinging free-kick from the left and Jaanai Gordon managed to connect with a scuffed header at the far post.
Dixon just about managed to get Gordon’s effort away, before the rebound looped over the bar.
But moments later, Sunderland were ahead after Watmore got in behind the West Ham defence down the left-hand channel of the area.
As the 21-year-old bore down on goal, he was clipped from behind and the referee had no hesitation in awarding the spot-kick - despatched clinically by Martin Smith, who tucked it into the bottom right corner, with the keeper going the wrong way.
The woodwork denied Sunderland five minutes after the restart when Hammers centre-half Emmanuel Onariase allowed the ball to run under his foot and Mikael Mandron raced through.
Mandron burst down the right flank, got to the byline and from a seemingly impossible angle, managed to get the ball beyond keeper Sam Howes before it came back off the far post.
Howes made an excellent stop to prevent Sunderland doubling their advantage in the 72nd minute when Greenwood’s cross from the left was headed on by Carl Lawson towards Andrew Cartwright at the far post.
Cartwright was only a couple of yards out, but Howes did well to spread himself and block from point-blank range.
At the other end, Joshua Cullen came closest to an equaliser with a free-kick from the edge of the box which deflected just the wrong side of the post.
But Watmore cemented Sunderland’s victory with three minutes to go with a beautifully taken goal.
The winger brought Mandron’s pass under control with a superb first-touch which immediately put him in behind the West Ham defence.
Watmore held off the attentions of a couple of defenders before planting a shot under the keeper.
Mandron almost added a third, but Howes saved well with his legs after the striker had been played in by Tommy Robson’s through-ball.
But the reprieve was only temporary; Mandron’s back-heel feeding Greenwood, in acres of space 12 yards out, who planted it clinically in the bottom corner.
SUNDERLAND: Dixon, Cartwright, T Robson, McNamee, Beadling, Agnew, Smith (J Robson 90), Lawson, Watmore (Wright 90), Greenwood (Blinco 90), Mandron. Subs not used: Burke, Ledger.
WEST HAM: Howes, Pike, Page (Borg 80), Makasi, Onariase, Pask, Powell (Diangana 59), Carter, Brown, Cullen, Gordon (Mavilla 46). Sub not used: Boness.