Sunderland, ‘Doesn’t look quite there’ – Sunderland boss comments on 23-y/o after making return v Oldham Athletic

‘Doesn’t look quite there’ – Sunderland boss comments on 23-y/o after making return v Oldham Athletic

Sunderland’s Arbenit Xhemajli made a return to action in the EFL Trophy last night, after spending over a year on the sideline injured.

The 23-year-old sustained a serious knee ligament injury in October last season while playing for the Kosovo national side. This rendered him out of first-team action for the best part of thirteen months.

Xhemajli finally reappeared in Sunderland’s starting eleven last night, as the Black Cats suffered a 1-0 defeat at the hands of League Two Oldham, which ultimately sent them out the competition.

READ: Johnson makes Sunderland transfer admission ahead of January

Under-23 football has benefited the defender’s path back to full fitness, but Lee Johnson maintained he couldn’t be thrown back fully into regular appearances.

Speaking to The Chronicle, Johnson said: “He was honest. You could see at times his movement was a little bit restricted, but that’s what he’s building up.

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“Arby, if I’m looking with my first-team eyes on, doesn’t look quite there in terms of his mobility around the knee.

“But his decision-making is pretty good, and he’s brave and wins first headers.

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“We’ll try to give him that time to build up that momentum as much as possible.”

Xhemajli arrived at the Stadium of Light in September last year, and made one appearance in the EFL Trophy against Aston Villa U21s. Six weeks later, the Kosovan was ruled out for the remainder of the season.

Johnson continued: “You’ve got to allow him to recuperate properly, and he’s been great, an absolute ultimate professional.

“If there’s anyone you want to do well, it’s him.

“He’s over here, alone, and he trains four times a day to give himself the best opportunity to go out there and be strong.

“But the reality is there’s no sentiment when it comes to a first eleven in the league, and there can’t be.”

Sunderland currently sit in 5th-place of the League One table. It’s been a tough few weeks for the Black Cats and for Johnson who’s been coming under some serious scrutiny, but two wins in his last three has given him some breathing space.

Up next for Sunderland is a home game v Oxford United this weekend.

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