IT has been quite some 24 hours for Duncan Watmore. Yesterday, the Middlesbrough forward signed a new two-and-a-half year deal with the Teessiders. This morning, he was announced as the Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month for December.

The latter is a welcome recognition of his efforts over the last four weeks. The former is the result of the tireless recovery work he has undertaken to salvage his career in the last three years.

Make no mistake about it, yesterday was a day that very nearly did not arrive. Twice during his time as a Sunderland player, Watmore suffered cruciate ligament injuries that could easily have left him on the footballing scrapheap. Battling back from one was bad enough; having to recover from a second was a form of physical and mental torment that might well have broken someone with lesser resolve.

Even when Watmore recovered sufficiently to resume training with Sunderland’s first team, his body kept breaking down because it was no longer used to the strains that go hand-in-hand with elite sport. At the end of last season, Phil Parkinson decided not to offer the 26-year-old a new contract at the Stadium of Light. Watmore, accepting that a new start was probably needed, took the former Sunderland boss’ judgement in good grace.

Offers to move abroad were politely rebuffed amid whispers of interest from Middlesbrough. A two-week trial turned into a four-week wait, but Watmore was eventually offered a short-term deal on Teesside. Could he convince Neil Warnock he was worth a much longer-term deal? The answer arrived yesterday, via both the recently-signed contract that commits him to the Riverside until the summer of 2023 and the EFL trophy that will take pride of place on his mantlepiece.

“I’m absolutely delighted to have signed,” said Watmore, who has scored five goals in eight games since signing for Boro. “Ever since I came here a few months ago, I’ve been treated so well by everyone involved. I’ve loved my time here, and I’m looking forward to playing a lot more for the Boro.

“There were other clubs that were interested, but it was an easy decision. Boro is fantastic club. I’m very grateful for the opportunity the club gave me, and the faith that was shown in me.”

That faith has already been repaid, with Warnock’s performances in the last couple of months having been a major factor in Boro’s climb to the fringe of the play-off places.

The former England Under-21 international looks back to his best, targeting opposition defenders with his direct dribbling style and proving his predatory instincts remain intact despite his lengthy lay-offs.

Warnock has been crying out for wide-attacking players all season – in Watmore, he has unearthed one of the best in the Football League without having to pay a penny on a transfer fee.

Watmore clearly appreciates that Warnock was willing to take a chance on him in November, and whatever else he goes on to achieve in a Boro shirt, he will never forget the feeling of his first two goals for his new employers.

“It was a brilliant feeling against Swansea after everything I’d been through, with the injuries and not having a club,” he said. “I was proud of myself, and I felt grateful to everyone at the club.

“In the dressing room after I’d scored I got a round of applause. There’s a real good energy and vibe around the place, I do feel very lucky to be here.

“I’m so pleased to have signed a longer-term contract. I put in a hell of lot of work in lockdown because I wanted to be ready for when someone gave me a chance, and all the fitness work and gym work has paid off.”

Watmore is now hoping to be part of a successful promotion push in the remainder of the season, and while the effect of the Covid outbreak that has forced the closure of Boro’s Rockliffe Park training complex remains to be seen, the first-team squad have their sights set on a top-six finish.

“We’re in a really good place,” said Watmore, in an interview with Middlesbrough’s official website. “It doesn’t feel like a club that was close to relegation last year. There’s a real good togetherness and we believe we can win every game. We want to keep climbing, keep building, and really challenge.

“The manager is brilliant. Every single day he can make you laugh, he’s so switched on, he doesn’t miss a trick, and he knows exactly what he’s doing with you.”