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Dennis Cirkin or Niall Huggins? The battle for Sunderland’s left back position

With the former Tottenham academy product on the comeback trail and Huggins currently enjoying a run of games, who could be in pole position to claim the shirt for the foreseeable future?

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Ewan Bowman says…

I think Huggins has been more than decent at left back, but I also think it’s essential that we bring Cirkin back into the side.

First and foremost, he’s the best left back at the club, and although he’s had his fair share of injuries, the team does look better with him in it. He offers an attacking threat and is also a very capable defender.

Also, for the balance of the team, playing a left-footed left back will benefit the side.

With Jack Clarke naturally dribbling infield with the ball, having Cirkin on the overlap will stretch very compact defences, which in turn will open up space for the likes of Clarke, Jobe and even Pierre Ekwah to have more shots at goal or find that killer pass.

With Aji Alese coming back soon, Huggins fit and Cirkin back in the fold, it gives us some good options.

With all three players experiencing injury problems whilst at the club, Mowbray can keep them fresh by chopping and changing when required.

However, if he’s fit and raring to go, Cirkin is first choice and once he gets some minutes under his belt, he’ll be eager to make an impact.

Sunderland v Southampton - Sky Bet Championship - Stadium of Light Photo by Will Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

Joseph Tulip says…

I think Huggins has been a consistent and reliable option in the absence of Cirkin and to take him out of the team at this juncture, especially after he was part of a winning effort at the weekend, would be harsh.

This is a difficult one because Cirkin will absolutely not be up to full fitness, and I thought that was the case when he came on against Leicester and gave a foul away on the edge of the box when their wide man got the better of him.

Cirkin is our first choice left back, however, and will need game time to get that match fitness, so it leaves Tony Mowbray with a potentially difficult decision.

My instinct is that we shouldn’t change anything ahead of the next game.

It’s surprising how quickly things can change and although I’d never want anyone to get injured or suspended, it’ll only be a matter of time before Cirkin is handed a chance to get back in.

Malc Dugdale says…

I agree with Ewan that we should bring Cirkin back into the starting eleven as soon as we can, but I’m really pleased with how Huggins has done.

Like his mate Trai Hume, he clearly needed a few games in a row to settle in and show his potential, and he still has more to come, but he’s done a great job and he deserves a lot of credit.

One of the biggest bonuses is that we now have someone who can cover both right and left back when needed, either in times of injury or when rotation is needed.

Huggins is familiar with playing alongside Luke O’Nien and Dan Ballard, and can drop in and help out when we need him to, with less impact on defensive communication and the wider way we play.

In addition to that, his recent contributions mean we can bring Cirkin back gradually, which will help prevent injuries as he gets up to speed. Also, we can avoid asking others to play out of position to cover.

I recall when Dan Neil was asked to play in the back line not too long ago, which was a massive waste. Switching key players around and using versatile lads such as O’Nien can be less prevalent with these defensive options, which will improve how we defend both as a unit and as a team.

With Hume, Cirkin, Huggins and Aji Alese all hopefully available soon, my view is that we’ll have some of the best defenders in this league, so let’s bring Cirkin and Alese back in a structured and steady way to keep everyone fit and available for the rest of the campaign.

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Phil West says…

This is an interesting one, and it certainly highlights the strength in depth that we can boast as players gradually return from injury and start easing themselves back into the first team picture.

Ian Harte might’ve stupidly tried to lob a hand grenade into this particular discussion ahead of the Norwich game, but having two quality players vying for the position can only benefit the team as a whole, particularly as the hectic festive period looms large and Tony Mowbray will be keen to rotate when necessary.

In my view, Cirkin is the better all-round player and as Ewan rightly highlights, his willingness to make surging runs down the flank provides Jack Clarke with a valuable option out wide. Whenever they’ve played together previously, they’ve gelled very well and I’m keen to see that partnership reignited.

On the other hand, Huggins deserves his spot at the moment after some solid recent displays on the back of an appalling run of injuries since he joined Sunderland. Yes, he's looked rusty and prone to the odd rash moment at times, but that’ll improve the more he plays and overall, I think he’s done a fine job.

For Swansea, I’d expect Mowbray to stick with Huggins and for Cirkin to get another half an hour or so from the bench with a view to possibly starting against Birmingham a week later.

I get a sense that Mowbray is determined to give the former Leeds player every opportunity to get himself back up to speed in first team football, and as Cirkin builds up his fitness once again, it feels like a good bet that they’ll push each other to improve, which is exactly what we need.

Competition for places in any position is never a bad thing, and it’s reassuring that as we head towards what could be a key period of the season, we’ve got two solid players, each with different attributes, vying for the left back role.


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