Josh Maja ready to kick on and emulate former team-mates as he reacts to debut goal
The composure Josh Maja showed just minutes into his league debut came as little surprise to anyone who has watched his ascent to the Sunderland first team.
In a simple but devastatingly effective move against Fulham on Saturday, he turned his marker and scored with just two touches.
It was a trick he pulled regularly in pre-season, catching opponents off guard with his strength and awareness with back to goal.
It is that physical edge, combined with a technical excellence you would expect from someone brought through Manchester City’s academy, that caught the eye first of Simon Grayson and then Chris Coleman.
He and Joel Asoro – who came off the bench in the 72nd minute – have offered a new dimension to Sunderland’s attack and the pair, close friends off the pitch, are relishing it.
“Me and Joel are very close, we get on very well and we just want to help the club push on and stay up this year,” Maja said after celebrating Saturday’s match-winner as Sunderland ended their year-long wait for a home victory.
“The fans were waiting to see me and Joel play together and hopefully we can keep impressing.
“It’s a big part of the game. If you come on, you’ve got to make an impact and disrupt the other team.
“That’s what me and Joel were able to do when we came on and we’ve got to keep doing that.
“It was a bit of blur, but I’m just so pleased to get the win.
“I’ll enjoy the moment, but I’ll stay humble and grounded and just keep working to help the team.”
Time is on Maja’s side, but he was left frustrated by a knee injury that brought a premature end to a breakthrough pre-season campaign.
A former Fulham youngster, he has seen friend and one-time team-mate Ryan Sessegnon explode onto the first-team scene, as well as many former opponents from the youth scene.
He played against Marcus Rashford in a 3-0 win over Manchester United Under-18s, notching an assist ‘you might want to look up’.
Quietly confident, but with little ego, Sunderland boss Coleman will have few problems keeping this 18-year-old’s feet on the ground. Nevertheless, 18 months after his arrival, it feels as if Maja’s time has come.
“It was a difficult couple of months with a few [injury] setbacks, but it is fine now and I’m ready to kick on,” he said.