Sunderland made some exciting signings over the summer transfer window, but one of the more promising ones was the acquisition of Leeds United man Niall Huggins on a free transfer.
The Wales under-21 international appeared once under Marcelo Bielsa in a home Premier League clash with Arsenal last season, but spent most of the season in the club’s under-23 team.
Huggins proved to be very versatile for the Yorkshire side, playing at both full-back positions and further forward on the wing, but upon arriving at the Stadium of Light this summer he was given the number 2 shirt which suggested head coach Lee Johnson sees him as a right-back.
Have Sunderland had a higher or lower average attendance compared to these 23 sides this season?
That’s where Huggins has played in both of his EFL Cup appearances whilst in his two League One outings the 20-year-old played on the opposite side at left-back.
Disaster has struck for Huggins though with Johnson confirming that he will spend the next three months on the sidelines with what appears to be a serious back injury.
Former Sunderland striker Kevin Phillips has issued his verdict on Huggins’ setback and he’s echoed the concerns of many fans that have displayed their disappointment at the injury.
“It’s a big blow,” former European Golden Shoe winner Phillips told Football Insider.
“I’ve been lucky enough to watch him live a few times this season, and he’s been very good.
“Naturally, when you lose a player as impressive as him, it is a blow.
“But the good thing for Sunderland is they do have quite a lot of squad depth. I think it could be the case of one door closing and another opening.
“It’s a chance for someone else to take that position and make it their own.
“I do feel bad for the kid, he’s had a good start to life at the club and I wish him a speedy recovery.”
Thankfully for Lee Johnson he already has a solid option at right-back in Carl Winchester who has been performing very well in that role this season to compensate for Huggins’ injury.
But looking past that they will now lack depth for the next three months, especially with Luke O’Nien now being deployed in the engine room.
Johnson may have to look towards the under-23’s for Winchester’s deputy, with Kenton Richardson and Ollie Younger likely to be looked at.
As long as Winchester stays fit though they should be fine but this part of the League One season can be tough in terms of games coming thick and fast so Huggins being available as well as his versatility would have been useful to call upon.