Inside track on why Leeds United allowed defender to leave for Sunderland
New Sunderland signing Niall Huggins made his Black Cats debut during a 3-2 Carabao Cup win at Blackpool – and there were some encouraging signs from the 20-year-old at Bloomfield Road.
Huggins, who can play in several positions, signed a four-year deal at the Stadium of Light last week and completed 90 minutes as a right-back against the Tangerines.
And while the defender made a few loose passes in the early exchanges, his desire to carry the ball forward from full-back was clear.
To find out more about the Wales Under-21s international, we caught up with Leeds reporter Joe Urquhart from our sister title the Yorkshire Evening Post.
What sort of player is Huggins and what are his strengths and weaknesses?
JU: “He's quick, nippy and a good ball carrier.
“For Leeds he played the majority of games as a left wing-back for the under-23s side.
“He is fairly versatile, and can play in either wing-back position or even as a winger or as a centre midfielder if needed.
“Huggins made his Leeds senior debut in the Premier League against Arsenal as a substitute and came on as a right winger even though he hadn't really played there much in the development ranks.
“His attributes make him a good asset to have in that regard, he's got plenty of skills you can utilise across the pitch.
“In terms of weaknesses, his finishing was sometimes a bit wayward. He could've scored on a near weekly basis for Leeds in the Premier League 2 due to always popping up in the opposition box.”
What is his best position?
JU: “It's hard to say. He was a very good option as a wing-back for Leeds because of the system they play under Bielsa.
“He likes his defenders to surge forward and almost play as wingers, so he was attacking as much as he was defending.
“For Wales Under-21s he has played as a winger, and I think his pace, ability to fly past a man and final ball probably lend him to that.”
Why have Leeds allowed him to leave?
JU: “Simply, there's just too many people ahead of him at Leeds in the positions he could potentially play.
“It was a bit of a shock to see him come off the bench at the Emirates - a good one - and it showed how highly Bielsa rated him.
“But over the last few months Leeds have recruited more academy players and Huggins is reaching an age where he probably wants to start playing senior football on a weekly basis.”
Do you think Sunderland is a good move for him?
JU: “I genuinely do. Obviously there will be a lot of pressure to perform when called upon and there is no hiding place up there but I think Sunderland have got themselves a really good player.
“Leeds fans were fairly disappointed to see him go. Though he would fly under the radar a little because of the more headline names in the under-23s squad, he was one of the most consistent performers for the team during last season's title win.
“He still has plenty of development to come, which means his ceiling can be as high as you like.
“It's a good capture for Sunderland, I think his versatility will help hugely throughout the season.”