Brighton and Hove Albion boss Chris Hughton was spotted at Griffin Park on Saturday taking in Sunderland’s draw with Brentford, sparking rumours he was there to check out Black Cats attacker Duncan Watmore.
Observant fans had spotted Hughton before the game and the sighting was confirmed by the Sun reporter Alan Nixon on social media.
And with gossip suggesting the Seagulls boss had hastened across London in order to check out an unidentified home player along with Sunderland’s live wire forward, the prospect of losing Watmore so soon after his re-emergence will alarm fans on Wearside.
The Black Cats forward made his third appearance of the season since returning from a 10 month lay-off and was instrumental in Sunderland’s attacking moves, opening up the Brentford defence with his direct play.
It was Watmore who skipped past the Bees back-line only to be hauled down by one-time Sunderland target Ryan Woods inside the penalty area for Lewis Grabban to convert the spot-kick and hand the Black Cats a two goal initiative on the stroke of half time.
The former England Under-21 international is one of the few saleable assets in the Sunderland squad who could attract attention from Premier League sides in the January window, so interest from newly promoted Brighton would be of little surprise.
Hughton’s side have made a good start to life in the big league, and are 12th in the table having won three and drawn two of their opening 9 games.
A three-goal win at West Ham at the weekend has earned the Seagulls boss universal plaudits and a growing recognition which has sometimes been lacking during his two decades as a coach.
It’s now nearly six years since Hughton was sacked by Newcastle, and his success in getting Brighton to the Premier League will have been noted by big club and international chairmen who may currently be considering half-term managerial replacements.
And though interest in Watmore will come as little surprise to Sunderland fans, the departure of the popular attacking player would be a huge blow to morale on Wearside for a fan base who have suffered the ignominy of a drop from the Premier League only to find their club in the bottom-three of the division below as October draws to an end.
There may be nothing in it of course; Hughton remains a popular figure at Brentford having turned out for the club in the season before he retired in 1993 and is a frequent visitor to Griffin Park.
But ominously, few observers of the goings-on at the Stadium of Light would expect Sunderland to put up much of a fight to keep hold of Watmore should a Premier League side come calling with cash on offer.