The Sunderland player emerging as a 'bonus ball' for Tony Mowbray in pre-season

Sunderland defender Niall Huggins is making encouraging progress in his recovery from injury

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Tony Mowbray is hoping that Niall Huggins emerges as a 'bonus ball' from Sunderland's pre-season campaign as the defender looks to put his injury woe behind him.

Huggins made his comeback from injury during Sunderland's play-off campaign, clearing the way for him to play a full part in pre-season. And he has made a hugely encouraging start, making a goalscoring appearance against Gateshead before featuring again in the 3-1 win over San Antonio FC.

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Mowbray almost signed Huggins for his Blackburn Rovers side and so knows well the potential energy and versatility he could bring to the side.

So while eager not to put pressure on the player as he continues his comeback, the head coach hopes he will finally be able to see the best of the 22-year-old in the weeks ahead.

"Niall is a bonus ball for us," Mowbray said.

"He's a good footballer, very athletic, very versatile, very confident with the ball at his feet. I'm really pleased for Niall.

"He has to prove his robustness throughout the season and play games and be available to play games, and he has to try and force his way into the team, but he's a really positive asset for the football club."

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Huggins spoke after the win over Gateshead and said he was hoping to reap the benefits of the extra work he has been doing over the summer.

"I'm buzzing - the end of last season was kind of just a bonus, to be honest," Huggins told

"The plan really was just to finish the season as fit as possible, so to get some minutes especially in front of the home crowd was a really great feeling. I worked hard over the off season, I came in a week early with a few of the lads who had been in just to get a few extra reps and runs in.

"I think that's helped me, I've had a good two weeks [training] and I feel good, and it's just about building that match fitness up now. That will come with time.

"I feel really good and obviously I'm just excited to try and push into the team this season."