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Watford v Sunderland - Premier League

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On This Day (2016): Elton John watches on as Sunderland’s kids see out the season at Watford!

Music legend Elton John watched on from the stands as Sam Allardyce’s safe Sunderland fielded a second string, handing debuts to a bunch of youngsters, in a 2-2 draw with Watford on this day five years ago!

Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

The names of Tommy Robson and Rees Greenwood might not seem to familiar to most Sunderland supporters, but the pair of Academy of Light youngsters made their first team debuts in the Premier League for the Lads on this day five years ago.

Having secured survival against Everton, the final game of the season was a free hit for Big Sam, and he opted to use it as an opportunity to give some of the club’s young stars a chance to impress on the big stage in the season’s finale.

Also in the starting eleven that day was 22-year-old Jordan Pickford, who would burst onto the scene after that game when he became first choice in the Premier League in the following season.

Amongst the subs was George Honeyman, who replaced Greenwood not long after half-time in one of his first appearances for the Lads in the senior side.

It wasn’t just our best youngsters who got an opportunity to shine, though, as Allardyce handed starts to Seb Larsson, John O’Shea, Duncan Watmore, Jack Rodwell, Dame N’Doye and Jeremain Lens - with only Lamine Kone and DeAndre Yedlin making the team having played in the previous game.

Watford v Sunderland - Premier League

It was the final day of the season, the sun was shining... and Elton John was in the crowd.

The game was played at a fairly frantic pace considering the fact it was the last game of the season, and we took the lead just before half time as Jeremain Lens’ cross was swept home by Jack Rodwell, of all people.

I remember Rodders actually playing quite well that afternoon in what was something of a cameo appearance, given he never really played. Maybe he was hoping Man City would come calling again.

We came back out after the break and were slack, and Watford managed to capitalise and nab an equaliser when Sebastian Prodl scored a neat header.

We got ourselves back ahead just three minutes later when Jeremain Lens capped off a fine performance with a well-taken goal - but it counted for very little, as ten minutes later Troy Deeney scored from the penalty spot after John O’Shea gave away a customary daft foul inside the box.

The game petered out from that point, though Sam Allardyce was rightly fuming after the game with the performance of the referee Kevin Friend, who had an absolute stinker.

He was however happy that the fans got to have a nice day out - and as it turned out, it would be his last ever match in charge of Sunderland, as the England job came calling that summer following the departure of Roy Hodgson following a disastrous EURO 2016.

There were a few decisions that didn’t go our way today.

The fans came down and they sang all the way through and were entertained; they got to see some of our younger players, who I think stood up to the test today and played very well indeed.

We created a huge amount of chances and we got in front twice. The killer for us was Duncan [Watmore]’s goal – that would have made it 2-0 and I think it should have been allowed, however it wasn’t to be.

Eleven games, one defeat; no defeats in the last six games and 12 points from those games.

Watford played a full strength side and we only had a couple of players that have been involved in our last seven games.

What we’ve seen today stands us in good stead for the future.

We have to make sure we go into next season, build on this and don’t start the way we have done the last few years. We need a good start and to look much better, that’s what we need to concentrate on.

For now, that was a brilliant send-off for the fans, we matched Watford in every department and what we saw was very pleasing, they could enjoy their day.

Watford v Sunderland - Premier League Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images

It was nice that Sam made a point of reminding us that we had only lost one of our last eleven games - against Champions Leicester - because it was a reminder to fans of other clubs that we hadn’t just pulled a rabbit out of our arses again, which seemed to be the narrative. We’d deserved survival and had played well since the end of the January transfer window.

Tom Robson had a great game and with a spot in the squad for a left back up for grabs, Robson did his chances no harm going into pre-season - it’s just a shame that with the managerial upheaval, he became lost in the shuffle.

Rees Greenwood - another starter that day who didn’t really amount to anything afterwards - wasn’t too bad either. He played a lovely ball into Duncan Watmore to set up the counter attack which led to Jeremain Lens’ goal and he didn’t look out of place. His form for the reserves that season meant he had earned his chance to play for the first team.

And, Duncan Watmore was arguably our man of the match. He and Jordan Pickford headed off with England to the Toulon Tournament, and following a successful summer with the national side, they went off to play a massive part in the senior side the following year.


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