AS a football manager, sometimes a telephone call out of the blue can transform the course of a season. As a footballer, sometimes that same telephone conversation can change the course of an entire career.

Neil Warnock was vaguely aware of Duncan Watmore’s injury-ravaged spell at Sunderland when his phone started ringing in September, but at that stage, the prospect of the 26-year-old being awarded a contract at Middlesbrough was fanciful at best.

Nevertheless, speaking to Gordon Armstrong, formerly a midfielder with the Black Cats and now a successful football agent, Warnock was persuaded to have a meeting with Watmore, who was about to turn his back on English football and move to India. In the five months since, India’s loss has certainly been Middlesbrough’s gain.

“It was Gordon, an ex-player I once managed that Ronnie Jepson knows, that rang me one day and asked me if I would have a look at Duncan,” said Warnock. “He was going to go to India, but I was asked if I would have a look for a few days.

“At that time, with the financial side of things, we hadn’t really got much money to spend, so I said, ‘Yeah’. I trusted Gordon, so I said, ‘Yeah, get him down and I’ll have a chat with him’.

“I asked him to come down, and he did, even though we couldn’t pay him for three or four weeks because of something to do with the regulations. He stuck at it, and I told him I would get him a contract at some stage.”

Not, however, that the first impressions created by Watmore on the training ground were especially impressive. Understandably rusty after being released by Sunderland earlier in the summer, the forward found himself trying too hard as he strained to make a positive impact. As a result, his chance almost disappeared before it had really begun.

“After ten days, Kevin (Blackwell) said to me, ‘He’s got no chance gaffer’, admitted Warnock. “I knew what he meant because Duncan was trying too hard and he wasn’t doing anything. You get lads like that, but I just loved his attitude. In fairness to Kevin, another ten days later or so, and he said, ‘Well, I’ve changed my mind gaffer. He’s got a chance here, hasn’t he?’ He’s never looked back since.”

Watmore was initially awarded a short-term contract, but any questions over his suitability for the Championship disappeared in only his second start when he scored both of Boro’s goals in their home win over high-flying Swansea.

Another brace against Millwall quickly followed, persuading Warnock to turn Watmore’s short-term deal into a much longer-term contract. The former England Under-21 international has not looked back since, with Tuesday’s superb solo effort against Huddersfield taking him to six goals for the season, a tally that makes him Boro’s leading scorer.

“I’m delighted for him,” said Warnock. “He’s a little bit like my son, William, to be honest. He’s such a lovely lad. You talk to him and there’s no malice there – if anything, you probably wish he was a bit more like that. He’s such a nice lad, and you know what you’re getting.

“He’s so honest and he works his socks off. He listens to everything you say, and tries to put into practice everything you tell him. It’s a manager’s dream really, and I thought it was fabulous to see him get his reward the other night. Everybody around the country will have seen that goal, and he deserved that for the time he’s been out."

Middlesbrough (probable, 5-3-2): Bettinelli; Dijksteel, Hall, McNair, Fry, Bola; Morsy, Howson, Saville; Watmore, Fletcher.