RR: The initial reports said that Duncan would be out for 8-12 weeks. Is he on track, and how far away would you say he currently is from making a comeback?
IW: It’s early days but he’s on track with this 8-12 week estimate, with no operation required. That will make him fit to train in May sometime - let’s hope that’s not relevant to this season, otherwise it means play-offs!
In any event the manager wants him to be fit in May so he can sign off for a normal summer and come back in pre-season for the first time in years after decent break.
RR: How has Duncan reacted to being sidelined again, and how, if at all, does this differ from his reaction to previous injuries?
IW: This is a football injury caused by a shockingly bad tackle. He was pretty down when it happened, occurring as it did so soon after his equaliser in 94th minute. He realised he wouldn’t contribute further to the promotion push, and was going to miss Wembley, one of the things to elude him to date.
But at least his last action was scoring a vital goal that won a point and kept the undefeated run going, so that is something to cling on to.
One of the matchday photographers took a great shot of him celebrating with the wall of Black Cats fans, and I’ve had that framed for him as a reminder of the high to help him through the recovery.
And being the mental rubber ball that he is he is already much more upbeat, he has incredible support from his fiancee Sophie, and is using the mind-space freed from game preparation to plan their wedding next summer, which is also keeping him positive.
His previous injuries have been different. For example they occurred without blame on other players, which is quite often the case with ACL injuries. This season Cook and Francis at Bournemouth and Bellerin and Holding at Arsenal have all suffered ACL tears, and I’m pretty certain no other players were involved with them. So they are different injuries mentally, as well as having a much longer recovery period after a major hospital operation.
RR: How confident are you that Duncan can make a full recovery from this injury?
IW: Very - its similar to the ankle injury he sustained at Anfield in the 2-2 draw under Sam Allardyce, and he came back after nine weeks to score in the Norwich game and then play a role in the unbeaten Arsenal, Stoke, Chelsea, Everton and Watford games.
So, good memories to keep us all confident.
RR: The tackle that caused the injury was obviously after he equalised away at Wycombe - what are your thoughts on the tackle and subsequent apology, as it clearly angered a fair few Sunderland fans?
IW: It was a shocking tackle and so unnecessary. I saw Catts go up to the guy and give him both barrels - Catts is very good friends with Duncan and loves playing with him.
I think the guy then realised what he had done, apologised on the pitch and subsequently on Twitter, so that is accepted even though the damage is done. So, I don’t want to scapegoat him.
What concerns me more is the way some managers across football set up their teams against the so-called “big clubs” and injuries then are very likely.
Wenger, Pochettino and Guardiola have often spoken about this at their level, and obviously in this league Sunderland are one of the “big clubs”. Its a problem football has to deal with.
RR: There are a whole host of players who have praised the job Jack Ross has done so far under the difficult conditions he took over with. How has Duncan found him to work with?
IW: Duncan and Jack Ross hit it off on a personal level early on - he has managed Duncan brilliantly through the injury back to contributing and scoring, and has already told him to take the positives out of this season and get ready for the next.
Perfect man-management, in fact.
As it happens I went to St Mirren v kilmarnock last week as guest of their chairman and everyone in the boardroom had only good words for Jack Ross even though he left them in the summer and they are now bottom of Scottish Premiership.
Interestingly, the Kilmarnock directors were just as positive about James Fowler, so that just confirms what we already knew, that the club currently has a great management team.
RR: After scoring his first league goal, how much of an impact do you think Duncan could’ve had to our promotion run in?
IW: Who knows? And I don’t think it helps to focus on “what if”. All I will say is that confidence is so important in sport - he was gaining confidence in his knee, he was playing well when he started or came on as sub, his pace was as good as ever, and he had just scored a critical league goal on top of an important goal on the road to Wembley.
So he would have been confident at the business end of the season and would most likely have had an important contribution to make. But, I have immense confidence in the rest of the squad, which has a good balance of home grown players and experience, and strength in depth in almost every position.
RR: Finally, how do you think sunderland will fare for the rest of the season?
IW: The final will be a great day out, but hard to call as Pompey are an effective side with big, passionate fanbase. A trophy would be nice, of course. I was at Wembley in 1973...
…. but, ultimately, promotion is the overwhelming objective. 93 points or more has always achieved promotion, and only once has a team with 90 points failed to go up.
So, Sunderland need 20 points (maybe less) from 9 games, and that is doable of course.
But with the postponements and the Wembley final its going to involve a real fixture pile-up, and this makes the relatively larger squad absolutely crucial.
Obviously Barnsley, Luton and the rest will be trying to put points on the board in the next two weeks. Sunderland fans have to ignore this and concentrate on those last nine games, getting the required 20 points, and being that clichéd 12th man home and away - just like for that infamous Big Sam run-in during 2016. I genuinely think the boys will do it, but it might be wise to keep the blood pressure tablets close to hand!