ARBENIT XHEMAJLI is back in light training – with Lee Johnson confident the defender will be available for the start of pre-season.

Having joined Sunderland from Swiss side Neuchatel Xamax in the summer, Xhemajli made his Black Cats debut in September’s Papa John’s Trophy group game with Aston Villa Under-21s.

However, before he could make his first league appearance, he suffered a knee-ligament injury while on international duty with Kosovo.

He has been sidelined ever since and is therefore still to feature under Johnson, but he was back out on the grass at the Academy of Light this week taking part in a series of light training sessions.

He will not be involved in the remaining four games of the season, but should be able to link up with the rest of Sunderland’s first-team squad for the start of pre-season training later in the summer.

And having admired the 22-year-old from afar when he was appointed as the Black Cats’ head coach in December, Johnson is looking forward to being able to work with the centre-half.

“Arby is out on the grass,” said the Sunderland boss. “It’s really, really nice to see him out. He’s a lovely lad. When I came into the football club, I did my research, and it was interesting how statistically, he came out as the best defender in the division.

“It may have been a little bit skewed in terms of the rating because of the foreign league he came from, but I thought that was an interesting fact. He’s a player that I was looking forward to seeing, but didn’t really know the extent of his injury until I got in the building.

“It was great to see him out there, bounding over hurdles, jumping and changing direction. He’s not close to a return, but if we can get him some minutes in pre-season then that would really be quite a fast-track in terms of his recuperation.”

Like Xhemajli, Jordan Willis should also be available for the start of pre-season training, even though he will miss the remainder of the current campaign.