While Lee Johnson’s high-flying Sunderland side should not have too much trouble securing three points in the visit of mid-table Cheltenham Town on Tuesday evening, a number of injuries and fitness worries in the Black Cats squad could be something of a cause for concern for the 40-year-old manager.
Indeed, with both left-back Dennis Cirkin and centre-back Callum Doyle being assessed before the fixture due to their respective knocks, while Lynden Gooch is also sidelined for the clash as the winger is yet to recover from a hamstring injury, Johnson will have a number of tough calls to make in the build-up to the match.
Regarding the potential absence of Cirkin in particular, although it will undoubtedly come as a blow to the Mackems manager to lose a player who has highly impressed since his summer move from Tottenham Hotspur, the 19-year-old’s unavailability could be something of an opportunity for Sunderland, as it presents an opening for another exciting youngster to get some much-needed game time.
Indeed, following his own summer switch from Leeds United, 20-year-old Niall Huggins has so far made just one appearance in League One, coming on for the injured Cirkin in the club’s 1-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers last weekend.
And, despite naturally being a right-back, the £180k-rated man turned in an extremely solid performance on the opposite flank in the win over the Trotters, blocking one shot, making three interceptions, making one tackle and winning one duel over the course of his 24 minutes on the pitch – seeing him earn a very respectable SofaScore match rating of 6.9.
The defender also impressed in the Black Cats’ 2-0 Carabao Cup victory against Wigan Athletic last week, providing one assist and creating one big chance for his teammates, as well as making one interception, one tackle and one clearance – with these returns seeing the player Ian Harte dubbed a “fantastic” talent receive a SofaScore match rating of 7.3.
As such, should Cirkin indeed miss out on Tuesday evening, it would appear highly advisable for Johnson to unleash Huggins against the Robins, as the Leeds loanee clearly has the ability to be something of a game-changer for the promotion hopefuls.