Duncan Watmore may not have ever convinced former Sunderland manager Dick Advocaat of his ability.
But he immediately caught the eye of replacement boss Sam Allardyce, who handed the player his first Premier League start and has remained a favourite ever since.
For them to vote for me is a very nice feeling and I’m grateful for thatDuncan Watmore
Allardyce was positively beaming when he was able to contemplate using Watmore again a fortnight ago after the 22-year-old’s sooner-than-expected return to training from ankle ligament damage.
The grounded, bright and ever polite Watmore realises that he remains at the start of a long route to realise his full potential, and make the transition from super-sub to regular starter.
But after being voted Sunderland Supporters Association’s Young Player of the Year this week, Watmore can reflect on a breakthrough campaign which has seen him demonstrate his top flight credentials.
“At the start of the season, I was in the squad, but I wasn’t playing,” said Watmore.
“But thankfully, I’ve played a lot of games and the new manager has been great with me.
“I’ve got four first-team goals this year and I’m quite happy with that considering I haven’t started many games and I’ve had injuries.
“I’m always trying to score more, but for my first season, it’s good to be scoring.
“It’s a great feeling to win the award because it’s from the fans and that’s who you want to impress and make happy.
“The fans come here week-in, week-out, and they’ve been great all season – home and away.
“For them to vote for me is a very nice feeling and I’m grateful for that.”
Watmore’s fearlessness has at times been a breath of fresh air this season, amidst the drudgery and anxiety of the relegation dogfight.
However, the England U21 international insists that playing a part in a survival battle has provided a steep learning curve in his footballing education.
And he is now part of a Sunderland dressing room which very much has the confidence and determination to complete a successful escape from the drop.
“It has been a difficult season for us, but if anything, it’s a good experience for me,” added Watmore.
“In football, you’re going to experience all kinds of highs and lows and you’ve got to get used to both.
“I think we’ve done that well. We’ve recovered and now we need to make sure we kick on and finish the season on a high.
“It’s a great dressing room.
“I know a lot of us say it all the time, but it’s very true.
“I haven’t been in many others, but it’s a great one to break through in.
“These lads are so good with you and they’ve got so much experience and talent.
“I’m trying to tap into that and make sure I benefit from that.”