Sunderland manager Alex Neil has revealed that long-term absentee Niall Huggins is not partaking in pre-season and that the Championship club will have to make “slow progress” in his recovery from injury.
The 21-year-old defender signed permanently from Leeds United last summer but has seen his Black Cats career marred by injuries up to this point.
Huggins suffered a stress fracture in his back in September and then a heel issue in March during his recovery. Those injuries limited him to just four appearances in his debut season at the Stadium of Light and it appears supporters shouldn’t expect to see him back too soon.
The right-back has travelled to Portugal with the squad during pre-season but will not be involved.
Speaking to Chronicle Live, Neil provided an update on Huggins.
He said: “Unfortunately for Niall, he’s not doing pre-season with us at the moment.
“He’s still on the way back from his injury, which has obviously been ongoing. He’s come out with us to work with the physios, he’s part of our group and we want him to be involved.
“We just need to make slow progress with Niall, so we can get him in the best nick so that he doesn’t break down. It’s been tough for him.
“We value him a lot so we want him to get fit as soon as we can, but there’s no rush on it. It’s really important we get him back to a point where he doesn’t break down.”
20-year-old Trai Hume is the only other out-and-out right-back in the Sunderland squad but Carl Winchester and Luke O’Nien are more than capable of filling in while Lynden Gooch has been utilised as wing-back.
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This isn’t the sort of update that Sunderland fans will have been hoping for but it’s positive that the North East club aren’t trying to rush Huggins back.
He’s been really unfortunate since making the move from Leeds and will no doubt be desperate to get back on the pitch but the heel injury he suffered during his rehab from his back issue should serve as a warning that patience is vital.
It looks as though Neil and co. are willing to be very patient and the Sunderland boss does have some other options at right-back or right wing-back heading into the new season.
Hume looks a bright prospect while O’Nien and Winchester are reliable options and Gooch has proven useful as a wing-back.