Sunderland defender battling to be fit for season opener as he eyes league title hat-trick

Reece James.
Reece James.
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Reece James is battling to be fit for the League One opener against Charlton Athletic, with the left-back eyeing a hat-trick of league titles.

James is currently nursing a groin problem and faces a race against time to be ready for the season opener at the Stadium of Light.

The 24-year-old ex-Manchester United academy product starred for Wigan in their promotions from League One in both 2015-16 and 2017-18.

And he is hoping for more title success on Wearside, with the defender also targeting a quick return to the Premier League for Sunderland.

James said: “I’ve won the league twice, in both the seasons I’ve played in it. That counts for quite a lot.

“This club should never be at this level, regardless of anything else. It’s our job now to get us out of the position we find ourselves in. Hopefully we can do that this season.

“When I left Manchester United there were options for me in the Championship but Wigan had gone down to League One, a bit similar to the situation Sunderland are in now.

“I wanted to take the opportunity to be a part of something and it worked really well, it was just unfortunate I had the injury that didn’t allow me to play in the Championship season.

“I hope to do that here with Sunderland and progress the club as far as we can.

“The aim is to get back into the Premier League as quickly as possible.”

The Sunderland squad is in the middle of a major overhaul with a huge turnover of players, seven new signings have arrived with Stewart Donald targeting a further half dozen new additions.

It is not a new scenario for James, Wigan were going through a similar rebuild when he joined them in the summer of 2015.

He added: “At the time I joined Wigan we were a new squad, a whole new team, and we didn’t start too great, it was tough.

“I think we were mid-table after about six games but there was a moment where the players got together and said, ‘This is not acceptable, this is a club which should be thriving to go to the top of the league.’

“It just kicked on from there and we went on an unbelievable run and after the first ten games I don’t think we ever came out of the top two.

“That’s what momentum and team spirit can do and that’s what we’re trying to achieve here. That’s the aim. The aim isn’t just to get promoted, it’s to win the league.

“Teams are there to beat you every game, they look at you as a big club. It’s their FA Cup final every time they play Sunderland, that’s the way teams will look at it. They’ll make it as difficult as possible.

“We’ll go to some grounds that are very hard to play on - they’re tight, the crowd are on you and I think it’ll be sell-outs wherever we go.

“It will be difficult but we’ve got to stand up to the test and I think we’ll have a lot of fans backing us.”

Speaking after the Grimsby Town win last Tuesday, Jack Ross confirmed James was facing a “couple of weeks” out with a groin problem.

Adam Matthews and Denver Hume have been playing left-back in his absence but Ross will be hoping to be able to call on him as an option for the visit of Charlton on August 4.