Sunderland star Duncan Watmore’s determined to adapt his game

Duncan Watmore.
Duncan Watmore.

A learning curve awaits Duncan Watmore in these formative days of his career as a Premier League player.

Last season, it all came a little too easily for Watmore in the Under-21s, when his pace, movement and trickery saw him waspishly burst away from the efforts of rookie defenders, who struggled to contain him.

Maybe in the 21s, I could have got away with it, but you’ve got to lift your standard.

That pattern even continued in his introduction to the first-team under Dick Advocaat after providing the one and only positive for Sunderland in their awful collapse against Norwich City last month, and then sparking the Capital One Cup win over Exeter from the bench.

But there was a dose of reality on Sunday that the Premier League will not be all plain-sailing for Watmore after the 21-year-old was kept under-wraps by Spurs left-back Ben Davies, following his introduction for Fabio Borini with 20 minutes to go.

Watmore received little service during the finale as Sunderland tired, yet Davies stuck tight to the England Under-21 international and halted any of those trademark menacing runs before they even had a chance to develop.

It’s all part of Watmore’s footballing education after his university education concluded with a first class honour degree in economics last week.

But Watmore is so level-headed and so aware that he knows full well about the importance of developing and varying his game now he is a fully-fledged member of the first-team squad, particularly as word about his potential begins to spread.

He said: “You can’t just play a certain way. You have to adapt to the better players.

“I’ve got to play to my strengths. I’m better with the ball running at people, rather than playing with my back to goal.

“I don’t want to get myself in that position too often.

“I might be able to handle myself in the 21s, but if I’m there with my back to goal in the Premier League, it’s difficult, it’s hard.

“Maybe in the 21s, I could have got away with it, but you’ve got to lift your standard.

“Every player goes through it though. You’ve got to learn what you can do and what you can’t do and what you have to improve on.

“I’ve got to learn to adapt my game to that and maybe go in behind or something.”

Watmore is clearly now in Advocaat’s plans though as a genuine impact substitute, rather than an after-thought, after the Sunderland head coach opted against the ‘safe’ option of introducing the more experienced Seb Larsson for Borini last weekend.

Advocaat and his backroom team encouraged Watmore on several occasions during pre-season that he would be given his chance, despite minimal involvement in Sunderland’s friendly programme, after the Black Cats were wary of the winger suffering burn-out following his involvement for England U20s during the summer’s Toulon tournament.

And with development coach Robbie Stockdale – who oversaw Watmore score for the U21s in Monday’s 1-1 draw at Everton – still helping the ex-Altrincham man, plus England U21 boss Gareth Southgate, he has a range of sources to draw advice from.

“You pick up all different kind of things with different managers,” added Watmore.

“So with England, I’ve got Gareth and you pick things up there. You do likewise with the manager here, and with Robbie Stockdale in the Under-21s.

“That can only improve you. It’s good to have different opinions, because you want to take little things from each manager and take it on board.

“Ultimately it’s down to you and I have picked up a lot, especially with the first-team.

“Robbie was massive to my development last year and I think I became a lot better player because of that.

“Hopefully this year, I can step on again with the manager, who has been great with me.”