Results are largely irrelevant at youth level in terms of the development of the players as the overall goal is for them to make the breakthrough into the first team, which they can do without being part of a successful youth team.
One positive to take away from the loss to the Saints was that 21-year-old right-back Niall Huggins started the match and played the full 90 minutes – his third appearance for the U21s in 2022 after recovering from a fractured back.
Huggins played three games for the U21s as part of his rehabilitation and he is now closing in on being able to make a return for Tony Mowbray’s team, with the youngster now enjoying his first chance to impress the manager as Lee Johnson was in charge when he was last available for selection.
Mowbray could now strike gold by unearthing the starlet’s full potential as he showed great promise prior to his injury nightmare over the past year.
“Niall is an interesting player and tactically he’s very versatile – he is also very good physically in terms of his speed and acceleration and he’s a good dribbler, whether that’s playing left back or right back.
“He’s a bright kid and he’s had a very good education at Leeds, but now it’s the right time for him to step into that first-team environment. Niall is another one that we have added to our stable of quality young players, so we are very happy to have him and we’re looking forward to working with him.”
The £3.9k-per-week warrior, who was dubbed a “stunning” signing by journalist Josh Bunting, offered a taste of what he is capable of in a 2-0 win over Wigan in the EFL Cup last season. He recorded a SofaScore rating of 7.3 as he won five of his six individual duels and created two chances, registering one assist, in the match as he showcased his competitive nature and his ability on the ball.
Huggins, who is an international for Wales at youth level, was a regular for Leeds’ U21s prior to his move to the Stadium of Light as he played 17 Premier League 2 matches, scoring twice, in the 2020/21 campaign.
His performances for the Whites were good enough to convince Kristjaan Speakman and Johnson to sign him and the gem’s display against Wigan could be a sign of what is to come from him under Mowbray now that he has recovered from his injury.
Therefore, the Black Cats boss could strike gold by giving Huggins, who has plenty of time left to develop at the age of 21, opportunities to impress in the Championship, helping the youngster fulfil his undoubted potential and become a valuable member of the first-team squad.