This time last year - to the week to be exact - Sam Allardyce took over the reins as manager, having been left at the foot off the table by Dick Advocaat with no wins and three draws to our name. It was a situation we had grown accustomed to, but amongst the rubbish that the Dutchman's team had served up in the opening two months of the season there was quiet cause for optimism with the performances of Duncan Watmore.
Used sparingly by Advocaat, Watmore had still managed to grab two goals (one in the league) in four substitute appearances at the start of the campaign. A terrier like showing late on in our 6-2 defeat at Goodison Park a few weeks after Allardyce has took charge only strengthened the fans case for the inclusion of Watmore in the starting eleven, or at least as more than a substitute for the last ten minutes in a game.
As the season unfolded, the England U21 international became an important part of the side as Allardyce used him to great effect as an impact substitute that could run at will towards tiring defensive legs in the latter stages of a game, with Watmore scoring in important wins over Stoke and most notably Norwich City. With over half of his shots hitting the target and a knack of winning free kicks in important areas, Watmore was seen more and more as a key impact player over the course of the season. An interesting stat for the youngster, and ourselves as fans, is that when he appeared off the bench we would come to win in 53% of those games. Winning our Young Player of the Year came as no surprise with those statistics, not taking into account his hugely impressive season at U21 international level.
As you would expect, with a season as impressive as that young Duncan has been given a more senior role in the side and David Moyes has started him regularly ahead of Wahbi Khazri. Since becoming an important part of Moyes' plans I've noticed a shift in attitude towards Watmore, and I'm not sure that I'm comfortable with it.
I suppose its the nature of being a football fan - whenever things go wrong we look to point the blame somewhere, and Watmore certainly isn't the only player that has been given pelters this season. My point, I suppose, is that very subtly he's offering more than most will care to give him credit for.
With his attitude of never hiding or sulking aside, Duncan is growing into a much more accomplished player than just an impact sub, and with the team struggling it's difficult for any of our young players to showcase what they can truly offer - Duncan in particular has suffered from being played out of position. He's a forward, not a winger, and in the two games he's played centrally this season he's grabbed an assist (QPR away and West Brom at home). Against Shrewsbury he played a part in Januzaj's goal, and against Middlesbrough he was involved with Patrick Van Aanholt's late consolation goal. Though he isn't perfect, he does offer us something creatively.
He's also contributing significantly in other areas - Whilst his shot accuracy has gone down to 33%, his chances created have already doubled in comparison to last season. He had also added defensively - Duncan's interceptions, tackles won and clearances have already matched his figures from last year, showing that when the tough gets going he isn’t frightened to get stuck in. Perhaps his most important statistic is the amount of free kicks that he wins. He ended last year with a total of fifteen fouls suffered over the entire campaign, whereas he has already won us thirteen this season in half of the appearances.
Whilst Duncan Watmore hasn't necessarily been a star performer in the early stages of the season, the statistics would suggest that he's offering us alot more than he's perhaps being given credit for. His effort has never been doubted, but when he's consistently played out of position it's going to undoubtedly effect the consistency of his performances. With many of us expecting we'll see the team line up with a five-man back line against Stoke City at the weekend, the hope is that Watmore can be given a more suitable role centrally and we'll see the benefit of what he offers us on a more consistent basis.
He's certainly not hiding - along side giving maximum effort, it's all that we ever ask.
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