Tying Sunderland ace Josh Maja down to new contract a priority amid Premier League interest
It was pure instinct.
With 20 minutes on the clock at Valley Parade, Josh Maja chested Lee Cattermole's volley goalbound, a brilliant piece of skill that gave Sunderland the lead.
"It was clever from Josh. I have clarified with him that he meant it! Josh is adamant he did as he does redirect it. He is clever in the penalty area," reflected a delighted Jack Ross.
It was goal number nine for the 19-year-old in just 12 League One games.
No wonder clubs have been alerted to the division's top scorer. With nine goals and one assist to his name, Maja has scored a goal every 108 minutes this campaign.
Perhaps inevitably, news broke overnight that Premier League sides Manchester City, Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur were keeping tabs on Maja.
The exciting teenager, who has proved deadly in the penalty area this season, is out of contract next summer.
It is a priority among the corridors of power at the Stadium of Light to tie him down to a new deal and talks are underway.
The club want him to stay. Jack Ross wants the striker to stay. Maja has spoken openly about his desire to stay.
Yet, with Maja approaching the final six months of his contract, he would be free to speak to potential suitors from January, leaving Sunderland at risk of losing him for a small compensation fee next summer. The clock, therefore, is ticking on Wearside.
We examine what the key figures have had to say about the in-form striker.
The man himself:
Maja last month gave Sunderland a major boost by saying that he wants to help the team back to the Premier League.
"I’m happy at the club right now.
"All I’m focused on is getting the club back to where it should be and that is the Premier League.
"This season is a big year for us, we want promotion, to win the league. If we stick together we can do that.
"I think the goals have shown the manager and the club what I can do. As long as I stay grounded and humble, working hard, then more opportunities will come my way."
"It would help everybody if we could get a resolution before January,” said Ross last month.
"For the club and for him, it would help. You want the removal of any uncertainty, and if we can do that as a club it would help us and help Josh as well.
"Naturally his start to the season has just heightened the attention around him, so we want to make sure he stays here at Sunderland and that he plays a part in the clubs' ambitions.
"He'll have decisions to make when that comes around, but one thing I think about him is he is happy and enjoying his football.
"Hopefully, as a young man, he is not too much of a rush to get somewhere he may get to eventually if he keeps doing what he's doing."
Maja, Denver Hume, Max Stryjek, Lynden Gooch and George Honeyman are all out of contract at the end of the current campaign and Ross is eager to see them put pen to paper.
"How quickly that process will go, we’ll wait and see.
"It’s not just about Josh, we’re keen to keep all these younger players who have come through the club because they’re good enough to keep helping us progress. Hopefully, they’ll be part
"As a manager, the most simplistic way to look at it is that I want them to be in my squad. I ask the club to reward them with a contract, that’s probably as much as I can do.
"If there’s any persuasion from me, it’s in terms of how I see them in the playing squad. Then it’s down to how much that matters to them."
The Sunderland legend:
Maja’s early season form earned him the EFL Young Player of the Month award and a message of praise from Black Cats hero Jermain Defoe.
The Sunderland hero has been a long-term admirer of Maja's talents, and opened up on his support for the 19-year-old after he netted his first senior goal against Fulham last year.
Defoe said: "Josh is a quick thinker and if you’re that fast upstairs you don’t need anything else.
"When he trained with the first team he showed such great awareness – he knew when to pass it, had a great touch – and although he’s not got electric pace, he’s two steps ahead of everyone which means he’s got an immediate advantage.
"Just look at Pirlo, has anyone ever seen him sprint? No, but he doesn’t lose the ball.
"The gift Josh has is rare and if he builds on it, the sky’s the limit."