Lee Johnson gives Niall Huggins update and explains where ex-Leeds United defender fits into Sunderland plans

Niall Huggins could be involved when Sunderland face Blackpool in the second round of the Carabao Cup on Tuesday night, as Lee Johnson welcomed the arrival of another versatile player.

Monday, 23rd August 2021, 2:07 pm

Johnson will assess Huggins ahead of the clash with Neil Critchley's side, after admitting that the 20-year-old is likely to be lacking match sharpness.

Huggins trained in a separate group during Leeds United's pre-season campaign, as he waited for his future to be resolved.

Sunderland signed the talented full-back on a four-year deal, and he will provide immediate competition for Carl Winchester and Dennis Cirkin.

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Former Leeds United youngster Niall Huggins

Huggins has also played central midfield in the past, and Johnson believes his positive intent in possession means he is a viable option there going forward.

Johnson is considering sanctioning a loan move for winger Jack Diamond, whose gametime in the early weeks of the season has been relatively limited.

The Sunderland head coach said that players like Huggins allow to him to keep a smaller squad in place, something he believes improves cohesion and unity,

"It's an option [to put him in the squad for Blackpool] but he hasn't had a competitive game yet and so that has to be a consideration for us," Johnson said.

"He's done a lot of fitness work, he was one of five or six Leeds players who had been told their future maybe lay elsewhere and therefore they trained as a separate group.

"So I'll have to assess him.

"He's a real whippet, fast and very progressive in his thinking in terms of carrying the ball.

"He's another versatile one, as well, and I do like that within my squad.

"It enables me to keep a tighter squad and keep more players happy. The hardest thing as a manager is when you're leaving players like Jack Diamond out your squad when you don't want to.

"We're still in the market, I still want a couple more whether that's now or January.

"But the squad is shaping up now."

Sunderland's recruitment in the full back areas is not yet fully completed, though much clearly depends on whether Denver Hume agrees terms on a new contract in the coming days.

Speaking last Friday, Johnson said that no resolution appeared imminent, and conceded that the Black Cats would have to play for life without their talented academy graduates.

Winchester's superb form has shown his viability as a right back, while Luke O'Nien can of course drop into both positions.

Dan Neil has also performed well at left back but Sunderland are still monitoring the market in search of more strength in depth.

Sunderland are hoping that they will be able to manage O'Nien through the coming weeks despite the midfielder dislocating his shoulder during the 1-0 win over AFC Wimbledon.

"For the long term we are still looking there [full back], yeah," Johnson said.

"Niall can play both sides and he can also play in central midfield. You're going to need that. Touch wood Luke O'Nien is OK but there again, you have more cover now we have these lads who can move and fill different spots.

"I've been really impressed with the intelligence and agility we've played with this season."

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