Ex-Leeds defender opens up on Sunderland injury frustration

Sunderland defender Niall Huggins has opened up on his challenging year of injury setbacks and says it’s brilliant to be playing again.

The 21-year-old joined the Black Cats from Leeds in the summer of 2021 but hasn’t played for the first team since September last year.

“Basically, I had a stress fracture in my back which put me out for the initial long period of time,” Huggins told Sunderland’s website. “I was in a back brace for a while as I recovered from that.

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“And then as I tried to come back out on the grass, a similar sort of bone issue occurred. This has happened several times – I had a bone issue on my heel and then my ankle.

Niall Huggins has been sidelined for over a year following a series of injury setbacks.

“More recently I had a knee problem whilst being back out there running, which could be from the knee perhaps not working as it should. We’ve done a lot of tests and I’ve followed the right medical advice, and this is the furthest I’ve progressed since the pre-season trip to Portugal when I was back on the grass before. Hopefully we have no more setbacks now.”

Huggins has featured twice for Sunderland’s under-21s side this month and is set to play 90 minutes when the young Black Cats face Newcastle in Premier League 2, Division 2, on Monday.

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“It’s great to be back out there playing – it’s been a tough year,” he added. “I’ve trained lately with the under-21s which I’m enjoying, and being back out there on the grass with them has been brilliant.

“I’m just building up the minutes at the moment. It’s just about getting back to playing 11v11 and increasing the game time and the intensity.

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“The training and games have been my main cardio, so to speak, which of course has been challenging to get back to the level I want to be.

“The plan is for 90 minutes at Newcastle on Monday. I had 45 against Reading and then three-quarters of the game at Stoke, so the plan is to continue to build.

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“If I can feel like I’ll get there then I will, but obviously with the nature of my injuries and how long I’ve been out, I don’t want to push myself too hard and cause something that we don’t want to happen.”