Sunderland lined up without a natural centre-forward in their starting XI for the fourth straight Championship match as they lost 2-1 to Swansea on Saturday.
Ellis Simms picked up an injury in the 3-0 win over Reading in September and joined Scottish striker Ross Stewart on the sidelines, leaving Tony Mowbray without an out-and-out number nine to call upon.
In the subsequent four matches, the Black Cats have picked up three points and scored just three goals – including one in their last three – as the likes of Amad Diallo, Jack Clarke, Elliot Embleton, and Alex Pritchard have been tasked with filling the void up front.
Mowbray has not dipped into the academy set-up to bring a youngster up to fill the hole left by Stewart and Simms but there are a few options in the youth ranks who have the potential to make the grade in the future.
Whilst they may not be able to help the club with their current problems at the top end of the pitch, Sunderland have a number of talented youngsters at the Academy of Light.
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One player who could be the future heir to Stewart’s throne in the number nine position is 16-year-old academy phenomenon Tom Watson.
Journalist Josh Bunting picked up on his form shortly after his 16th birthday, Tweeting: “Tom Watson is a player to keep an eye on, he’s scored for Sunderland 18’s against Leeds this afternoon, that’s three goals in his last four games, makes it stick up top, only 16 so is very much new in 18’s football but has taken it to it like a duck to water, natural finisher.”
The forward has kicked on again this term and enjoyed a sublime start to the season. He has scored four goals and provided two assists in five U18 Premier League appearances, whilst he has also been called upon in two Premier League 2 matches for the U21s.
Watson, who can play out on the left or through the middle as a striker, has shown great promise at U18 level and is making big strides in the academy at such a young age.
Of course, it is not a certainty that he will be able to translate his stunning form to U21 or senior level but it does show that the potential is there for him to be a goalscorer for the club in the future.
If he can continue to develop and hone his skills as he gains more experience then he could grow into a player capable of replacing Stewart at the Stadium of Light if Mowbray decides to unearth his talent in a year, or in a few years, as he has shown glimpses of the goalscoring prowess he possesses.