SUNDERLAND have opened contract discussions with Niall Huggins and are hoping to tie down the defender to a new long-term deal.

Huggins has been one of the breakthrough stars of the current campaign, having forced his way into Tony Mowbray’s side after recovering from the injury issues that ruled him out for most of last season.

Since returning to full fitness in the summer, the 22-year-old has made 16 senior appearances during the current campaign, slotting in at both left-back and right-back to help plug gaps in the Black Cats defence.

He played the full 90 minutes on Saturday as Sunderland drew 1-1 at Millwall, and is likely to remain a key figure in Mowbray’s defensive plans even when the likes of Aji Alese and Dennis Cirkin return from injury.

Huggins’ current contract runs to the summer of 2025, meaning he has a year-and-a-half remaining, but the Sunderland hierarchy are keen to secure his services for a longer period by offering him a new deal.

Discussions are understood to have begun, with Huggins’ agent, Ian Harte, hinting at a potential agreement in an interview with iNews.

“Niall’s had an amazing season so far,” said Harte, who is a former Sunderland full-back himself. “He’s had to be patient, he’s been injured for a year-and-a-half. I’ve always known, when he was at Leeds, he is a top, top player. He can play right-back, he can play left-back.


“He’s been rewarded for his form with a call-up to the Wales national team. He just needs to keep doing what he’s doing. He’s got a year-and-a-half left (on his contract), so we’ll just have to watch this space.”

Harte also represents Jack Clarke, and is confident Sunderland’s leading scorer will not be agitating for a move away from Wearside in January. Clarke was the subject of a number of unsuccessful bids from Burnley in the summer, and has also been attracting interest from Premier League side Brentford.

“Jack is happy – he loves it at Sunderland,” said Harte. “Obviously, there was a club that came in over the summer to try and take him away.

“They put the offer in to Sunderland, Sunderland declined and obviously (in those circumstances) Jack has to stay professional, he has to still go and put performances in and that’s what he’s done and that’s what he’ll continue to do.”