DUNCAN WATMORE has paid tribute to Sunderland’s medical staff after making a successful return to first-team action during Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Preston.

Watmore made his first senior appearance since damaging his cruciate ligaments last December as the Black Cats claimed only their second point in the space of eight games at Deepdale.

The winger was sidelined for more than nine months before receiving the green light to ease himself back into action with a couple of appearances for the Under-23s.

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Saturday marked his return to the first team, and with Sunderland still stranded in the Championship relegation zone, his reappearance provides embattled boss Simon Grayson with a timely boost.

Watmore is understandably delighted to have won his battle back to fitness, and is indebted to the support of Sunderland’s medical and physiotherapy teams, who have been alongside him every step of the way.

“All the medical staff have been brilliant with me, particularly Binners (physio David Binningsley),” said the 23-year-old, who was a 64th-minute replacement for Lynden Gooch in Saturday’s draw. “He has been there for nine months with me and Paddy (McNair), and he said it has made him lose a bit of hair because we can be a pair of jokers.

“All the staff have been great, too many to mention individually. It is never nice to be injured – nine months is a long time – but they have done their best to make sure you enjoy it, and when you come back you are sharp.”

While it will inevitably take Watmore a fair bit of time to regain his match sharpness, it did not take him long to provide a reminder of the qualities that made him such an exciting attacking force prior to his injury.

He spent Saturday’s half-hour cameo harrying the Preston defence, and almost set up a winner for Lee Cattermole after winning possession close to the byline.

Playing on the shoulder of James Vaughan, he was constantly looking to run beyond the lone striker, and any fears over his fitness were allayed when he was clattered by Preston goalkeeper Chris Maxwell, only to pick himself up in order to continue with no problems.

Mentally, that was an important hurdle to overcome, and as well as being pleased with his durability, Watmore was also delighted with the rapturous reception he received from the travelling Sunderland fans.

“There is no better feeling,” he said. “It has been a long nine months, very frustrating, but it is great to be out there. I enjoyed it.

“When you get a reception like that, it makes the hard work worth it. You can train all you like, but you can’t recreate the physical contact you get in a game. It (Maxwell’s challenge) hurt a bit, but it is what you need. I thought there were a few fouls on me in the box.”

Sunderland’s battling display represented a marked improvement on their shambolic showing at Ipswich four days earlier, but the result still leaves them two points adrift of safety heading into the international break.

They will return to action with a home game against QPR a week on Saturday, and Watmore admits it is imperative they use the next week-and-a-half to iron out the problems that have been all-too-apparent in their last few matches.

“It’s a point we can build on,” said Watmore. “It hasn’t been going our way, that much is obvious, but it is a great bunch of lads and the gaffer has been great – everyone is on the same page. We haven’t been showing it in terms of results, but I’m very confident we can turn that around.”

Sunderland’s development side are in action tonight as they travel to Doncaster Rovers for a group game in the Checkatrade Trophy. The Under-23s have also added another game to their schedule as they will face Ryhope Colliery Welfare in a friendly tomorrow night.