Gareth Southgate praised the “fantastic impact” made by Duncan Watmore after the Sunderland forward came off the substitutes’ bench to inspire England Under-21s to a 3-1 Euro 2017 qualification victory over Switzerland.
Southgate’s below-par team were heading for defeat, owing to a first-half goal from Shani Tarashaj, and because of their predictability looked incapable of scoring even a solitary goal until Watmore’s 75th-minute introduction.
After sending a shot narrowly over the crossbar with his first touch, however, Watmore swiftly earned a penalty from which James Ward-Prowse equalised, gave England the lead with a deflected shot in the 82nd minute, and created fellow substitute Chuba Akpom’s goal in stoppage time.
His confidence, pace and directness had made the crucial difference to an uninspired team who, though tidy and composed in possession, lacked an attacking threat, and ultimately took England three points clear in first place of qualification Group 9.
“(It was a) fantastic impact in terms of pace, directness, super runs in behind defences,” Southgate said of the 21-year-old.
“It’s no surprise he’s an intelligent player because he’s an intelligent boy. He picks up ideas really quickly, he’s a raw, emerging talent.
“It’s the sort of contribution he has at the moment when he comes into a game, regularly.
“To respond as he did to not starting, when it was possible that he might, as he and Chuba (Akpom) did was a great sign for us as a team.
“It’s very early stages for him, there’s a rawness about him that has great potential. For certain he will maximise his career because (of) his mentality, and his desire to learn and improve. That’s a glimpse of what he’s capable of, tonight.
“He’s very grounded. I’m chuffed to bits for him, it’s lovely for him to take centre stage.”
As is central to Southgate’s philosophy since his appointment as manager in August 2013, England were often fluid, but the absence of so many important players – particularly Jordon Ibe, James Wilson and Nathan Redmond – undermined them.
“We’ve had a remarkable 10 days in terms of the disruptions we’ve faced, for different reasons,” Southgate said.
“We’ve had a new player arrive almost every day, it’s become a bit of a standing joke. What really impressed me is our experienced players took a lead, we had to play two different systems to do that – tactically they took those things on board – but it’s the mentality that will make them top players. To show that side was crucial.
“I like the fact that we’ve done that, that we’ve shown an edge, and it’s an important win in terms of the head-to-head (records) in the group as well.”