Nine-goal top scorer Josh Maja has been a shining light this campaign but he endured an off day in the 2-0 win over Shrewsbury Town.
Jack Ross has confirmed the 19-year-old continues to suffer from a niggling ankle injury but he didn’t use that as an excuse.
The Scot admitted Maja was below par and says that is part of the course with young players thrown into regular first team football, with peaks and troughs in their performances.
Maja has been in fine goalscoring form but he didn’t cause the Shrewsbury defence any problems at New Meadow and it was no surprise to see him subbed early in the second half.
Ross doesn’t have any concerns though and while there are areas of his game that need to improve, his manager has praised his contribution to the season so far.
“He’s had a little bit of an issue with his ankle and he missed the Checkatrade Trophy game [against Carlisle United],” said Ross.
“It’s a little bit of a niggling one and he’s trained all the time because he’s that type of boy but he was a little bit sore again on Saturday.
“I’m not using that as an excuse because I don’t think he played well and he would know that.
“There were bits of his game that he’s usually better at, which were untidy on Saturday and yet he still got himself into a couple of positions where normally you’d expect him to score – from his first half-chance you would think he would keep it tighter to him.
“As a 19-year-old you would expect that, you expect dips in games. But his contribution to this season has been great.
“Even without a niggling injury, to be 19 years-old and to play consecutive games has been a new experience for him,” added the Sunderland boss.
Maja is expected to lead the Sunderland attack again alongside Jerome Sinclair when the Black Cats make the relatively short trip to Doncaster Rovers on Tuesday night, backed by 4,000 away fans.