Tony Mowbray reveals Sunderland squad gesture for ex-Leeds United defender

Sunderland defender Niall Huggins has been reflecting on his return to action after more than a year out through injury.

Huggins returned as a shock starter in the 2-1 win over Birmingham City last Friday night, following a lengthy spell out with a stress fracture of the back.

Tony Mowbay had spoken previously about the full back potentially being part of the group of players back fit and pushing for selection after the World Cup break, but even then had stressed that there were no guarantees after such a long absence.

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Huggins had only returned to training with the senior group last week, and even that was just after completing 90 minutes for the U21s last Monday.

Sunderland’s Anthony Patterson (right) collects the ball as Sunderland’s Niall Huggins (centre) defends from Birmingham City’s Juninho Bacuna during the Sky Bet Championship match at St. Andrew's, Birmingham. Picture date: Friday November 11, 2022.

He was in from the start against Birmingham City – and excelled.

Reflecting on his year out, Huggins told the club website: “I think it’s been like 14 months since I last played 90 minutes for the first-team. It was a bit of a shock, it was a bit last minute going straight into the game but I was in to do a job.

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“It’s been really tough. It’s not been straight forward because sometimes with an injury, you know what your road to recovery looks like whereas I’ve had so many different injuries where I’ve got to the point where I’ve started running outside for a few weeks and then I would get another setback.

"It maybe happened like three or four times I was out on the grass so I could taste playing football again. For this time, we tried a different way of recovering, more of just going straight into football and taking it slower and slower. This way seems to have worked really well.”

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On the Sunderland dressing room, he added: “The lads have been unreal.

“It was the first time I’ve come to a new club in my career and the last thing you want is to come and then get injured straight away. All the way through my year out, the lads have been unreal supporting me.

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“Always had lads to talk to. To spur me on and keep my head up. But there is nothing like being back in training with them full-time again. To play and get a win with them was the best feeling.”

Speaking after the win at Birmingham City, Mowbray said: "All the lads have been cheering him in the dressing room, they are so pleased for him because he's such a great kid.

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"He was always going to come on this trip but he'd only just started training with us, it had only been a day.

"Then Dennis Cirkin gets injured and we had to bang our heads together and work out who was going to play on the left of our defence. The lads said that Niall could play there, that'd he'd done it for half a season when he was at Leeds. I had a chat with him and that's what we decided to do.

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"I said to him that he would probably have to come off after 60 or 70 minutes and you saw that he cramped up right at the end there, but everyone is so happy for him in there.

"He did amazingly well really, he looks a solid footballer and really athletic."