'Fair chance': Sunderland boss explains where Niall Huggins currently stands and what happens next

Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray says he is reluctant to sanction a loan move for Niall Huggins in the January window, insisting that there will be opportunities for him between now and the end of the season.

Huggins made a surprise and successful return to the fold in the 2-1 win over Birmingham City just before the World Cup break, after over a year on the sidelines with a sequence of major injuries.

The 22-year-old full back has not been able to feature since after suffering a minor setback, but returned to full training on Thursday to hand Mowbray a boost.

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While Mowbray says he has not ruled out entirely the prospect of Huggins following Jay Matete in going out to try and bolster his prospects of more regular football this season, his instinct is that the full back will be better served continuing his comeback on Wearside and offering cover where required.

"I think those conversations are probably a week or two away, I think that's something that would happen right at the death [if it did]," Mowbray said.

"At this moment Niall is a real comfort blanket for me in that he can play on both flanks, he's a fabulous athlete, a great kid and the ball is comfortable with him. So I'm not in a rush to let Niall Huggins go anywhere.

"If he comes and knocks on my door and sees that at his progression [then it could change] but even then, it has to be right for the football club.

"It's good that he's trained fully with us on Thursday, hopefully he can stay fit over the next few weeks and if he does, there's a fair chance we can rotate in and out and he can get some game time. It's not such a bad thing to be dropped in and out as a player who has had so much time out with injury.

Sunderland defender Niall Huggins

"I can't guarantee it, but sitting here right now in front of you I would suggest that there's a fair chance Niall will stay with us and get some game time between now and the end of the season.

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'What he clearly needs is a good pre-season under his belt, so he can then really compete to get in the team."

Mowbray has been hit with a number of defensive injury options over the course of the festive period, but Huggins' return to full training is another indication that they are slowly beginning to ease.

Lynden Gooch returned to the squad for the 2-1 win over Shrewsbury Town in the FA Cup third round, while Danny Batth is back in contention for Swansea City's visit to the Stadium of Light on Saturday.

Dennis Cirkin and Aji Alese are unavailable this weekend and both remain major doubts for next weekend's clash with Middlesbrough, but Alese is expected to be back in action at the end of the month with Cirkin around a week behind him.

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Further forward, Alex Pritchard is also expected to return at the end of the month.