Sunderland's transfer deal with Leeds United which is now paying off - as contract decision approaches

Sunderland signed Niall Huggins from Leeds United in the summer transfer window in 2021.

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In September 2021 Niall Huggins was handed his first league start for Sunderland in a resounding 5-0 over Cheltenham at the Stadium of Light.

The full-back, then 20-years-old, had waited for his opportunity after leaving Leeds United and signing a four-year contract with the Black Cats a month earlier. He then replaced Dennis Cirkin, who was unavailable after suffering a concussion, in the starting XI and looked like he’d provide strong competition for the full-back positions.

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Yet Huggins had to wait over a year for his next senior appearance, initially suffering a stress fracture in his back before struggling with knee issues during his rehab. It wasn’t until October 2022 when we saw the defender at first-team level again, when he was thrown into a Championship fixture at Birmingham. More injury problems followed, though, as the player made just three senior appearances off the bench for the remainder of the campaign.

Last season’s setbacks led to Huggins returning early for pre-season to be ready for the new season, while his return to fitness and form has come at just the right time for Tony Mowbray’s side. With Aji Alese out injured, Dennis Cirkin has also struggled with hamstring issues in recent months. As a result Huggins has started Sunderland’s last 11 Championship fixtures, operating on the left and right side of defence.

Huggins’ technical ability and evident fitness work conducted over the summer has given Sunderland an useful attacking outlet, which was demonstrated emphatically when the full-back beat two players and scored the opening goal in October’s 2-0 win over Watford. Huggins has also won 68.1 per cent of his defensive duels this season (according to Wyscout), highlighting his all-round game.

Despite the initial struggles, Sunderland’s move to sign Huggins two years ago now looks like a bargain. It’s understood the full-back joined the Black Cats on a free transfer, with a sell-on clause, while his recent form has resulted in a first international call-up for Wales.

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After agreeing new long-term contracts with several of their first-team players, the Black Cats will be starting to assess Huggins’ situation, with the 22-year-old’s deal set to expire in 2025. After two years of constant injury setbacks, we are now starting to see why Sunderland signed him.

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