Chris Coleman’s stark warning for Sunderland squad and breakthrough duo

Josh Maja enjoys his winner against Fulham last week. Picture by Frank Reid
Josh Maja enjoys his winner against Fulham last week. Picture by Frank Reid
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Chris Coleman has warned his Sunderland squad that they are nowhere near being able to put their relegation fears behind them.

The Black Cats face bottom-of-the-league Birmingham City this afternoon, currently holding a two-point advantage over Steve Cotterill’s side.

Coleman has been pleased with the response from his team so far, in his five-match reign, but he wants them to stay grounded ahead of a crucial game.

He said: “We’re far, far away from being in the position where we can say, ‘Wow, that was scary but we’re fine now’.

“We’re so, so far away from that.

“All we can do is keep meeting the challenge week by week and, so far, I’ve been pleased with what I’ve got back from them.”

Coleman had an even starker warning for his breakthrough stars Josh Maja and Joel Asoro.

The pair have made a significant impact under the new manager, who has been full of praise for their composure.

He has warned the youngsters, however, that staying in the first team will be a far greater challenge than getting there in the first place.

Coleman said of last week’s matchwinner Maja: “He’s been calm, Josh, he’s been calm. I think that’s why he took the goal so well – he’s a very calm boy.

“It was a brilliant debut, but Josh and Asoro know there’s a lot of hard work ahead, but they’ve made a good start.

“It’s something for them to build and work on and they’re part of the first-team squad.

“Will they get a chance against Birmingham? Maybe.

“They’ve just got to make sure they enjoy every minute of it and take from it as much as they can.

“For a young striker, when you score on your debut, especially in a game like that, there’s going to be a lot said about that.

“But his feet are firmly on the floor, which is where they should be anyway because there’s a lot of hard work for all our younger players who are showing promise and doing well, but they’re not the finished article.

“There’s a lot of hard work in front of them.

“It’ll go the way they want it to go. It is about what they want it to be.

“I can’t say they will do A, B, C. How it will go is up to them.

“Do they want to build on the little step forward they’ve made, and that is all it is, or do they want to listen to the wrong people, telling them they’re this and that, how brilliant they are.

“That’s a shame if they do that.

“Those are the two ways, listen to the wrong people or the right people.

“There’ll be loads of agents telling them they’re this and that when they’re not.

“They’re young players with real promise which we’ve got to bring that out of them, but is about them and making those sacrifices.

“That’s it with all young players, when they make a mark, do well in the senior squad, that’s where the danger comes.

“They get totally carried away with it, they need to realise that it is even harder to stay there.

“Those who do are the ones who make it.”