NORMALLY, in a pre-season friendly, players are not too happy about being on the receiving end of a hefty challenge. For Sunderland defender Reece James, however, a whack on the ankle in Tuesday’s game at Darlington was just what the doctor ordered.

James signed a one-year deal with Sunderland at the start of the month following his release from Wigan Athletic, and is determined to use his move to the North-East as an opportunity to put his injury nightmares behind him.

Formerly a promising junior at Manchester United, James’ move to Wigan in 2015 was supposed to take his career to the next level. Instead, it heralded a three-year period of frustration as a succession of ankle problems restricted him to fewer than 50 league appearances.

There was a year-and-a-half long spell where he was unable to play at all, so his return to action after a summer break was always going to prove a significant milestone. That he was able to come through it unscathed suggests better times could be just around the corner.

“I had a bad injury at Wigan which kept me out for 20 months and that was quite difficult,” said James, who played at left-back on Tuesday. “My first operation failed, I came back from the next operation and that failed.

“It just kind of went from there and became a big problem until I eventually got it sorted. I got as many games in between injuries as I could and felt I played well. But my time had come at Wigan and as soon as I got the phone call from Sunderland I was delighted to come and sign.

“I’ve not had an in issue with my ankle for 12 months and I took a tackle on it at Darlington. It was quite a hefty one and it stood up well so I know there are no issues there at all.”

James signed on the same day as midfielder Dylan McGeouch, and the pair immediately flew to Portugal to link up with the rest of Jack Ross’ squad at a pre-season training camp.

It all made for a whirlwind few days, but the 24-year-old is delighted to have been thrown in at the deep end.

“I had a phone call and it all happened quite quickly,” he said. “As soon as I heard Sunderland were interested I just wanted to come and sign.

“I got the medical done and me and Dylan got a flight out there together. It ended up being a long day, but it was really good to get out there and meet the rest of the boys.

“It’s just about building momentum for me now because the more games I play consecutively, everything starts to come back. As soon as you build momentum, everything goes from there, and hopefully I can get going and play really well.”

Meanwhile, Sunderland have completed the signing of 20-year-old defender Jack Bainbridge following his release from Swansea City.

Bainbridge, who arrives on a free transfer, will join Elliott Dickman’s Under-23s squad at the Academy of Light.