Sunderland defender Arbenit Xhemajli will be “chomping at the bit to get back involved with the first team”, according to former Black Cats striker Stephen Elliott.
The 23-year-old started Sunderland U23s’ 2-1 victory against Leeds United U23s in the Premier League Cup on Sunday as he continues his recovery from injury.
The centre-back played 45 minutes before being replaced by Henry Fieldson at the break and is likely to feature more regularly for the academy side as he looks to prove his fitness to Lee Johnson.
Xhemajli was something of a left-field signing when he was brought in from Swiss side Neuchâtel Xamax last summer and has spent the majority of his time in the North East sidelined due to injury.
The Kosovo international finally looks to be close to returning from the knee injury that has kept him out for more than a year and, in his column for the Sunderland Echo, Elliott has predicted he’ll be determined to fight his way back to contention.
He said: “It was also good to see Arbenit Xhemajli back in action for the under 23s on Sunday.
“He is a player who looked very good before his injury. He will be chomping at the bit to get back involved with the first team.
“Himself and Denver Hume, who we saw last week against Lincoln City, will add to what already seems a really strong squad.
“I know it’s good to have a bit of consistency in the team but on the other hand it’s good to have a strong reserve, especially at this time of the season when injuries and suspensions are often picked up.”
Xhemajli had featured just once for the Sunderland senior side before his long-term injury, starting the 8-1 EFL Trophy win against Aston Villa U23s last September.
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Sunderland discovered first hand last season just how important it is to have depth, particularly at centre-back, with a string of injuries meaning they were limited at points to Luke O’Nien as their most experienced option at the position.
They’ll hope they don’t have to deal with the same number of injured players this term but even so, Xhemajli’s return is a real positive.
He’d impressed in the brief chance he had to prove himself for the League One club and supporters will be hoping he can pick up where he left off.
It’s hard to disagree with Elliott here, given how much time the 2020 arrival has spent on the sidelines you have to think he’ll be really fired up when he returns and determined to get himself back into the first XI.
That can only be good news for Sunderland.