Sunderland fan verdict on impact of Josh Maja sale, misfiring Will Grigg and transfer priorities

Two thirds of Sunderland fans believe selling contract rebel Josh Maja in January cost the club automatic promotion to the Championship.

By Richard Mennear
Sunday, 16 June, 2019, 18:34
Ex-Sunderland striker Josh Maja.

Sunderland supporters have had their say in our big end of season survey and today we publish the second half of the results.

Maja, who scored 16 goals in the first half of last season, was sold after a protracted contract saga which saw the Black Cats offer their top scorer drastically improved terms.

Sunderland striker Will Grigg.

But the youngster was keen to leave and - knowing he would be able to leave for a minimal fee this summer - Sunderland acted swiftly and finalised a switch to Ligue 1 side Bordeaux.

His replacement Will Grigg - voted the biggest disappointment of the season by supporters - was signed at a cost of £3million from Wigan Athletic but struggled with both fitness and form, an ankle injury hampering his impact.

Grigg managed just five goals as Sunderland limped towards the finish line, ending the campaign fifth before eventually losing the League One play-off final to Charlton Athletic.

Sunderland manager Jack Ross.

We asked fans whether selling Maja cost automatic promotion and 62 per cent felt it did, they voted that his goals would have sent Sunderland up had he stayed.

Meanwhile, 38 per cent of fans that took part in our survey were of the opinion that if Maja wasn’t committed, then Sunderland had no choice but to sell him in January.

Fans are now looking forward to the new campaign with hopes high for promotion second time round.

More than 96 per cent expect to see Sunderland promoted next season, with 47 per cent saying automatic promotion is realistic with a further 49 per cent stating it is realistic for the club to be targeting the League One title.

Sunderland ace Luke O'Nien.

Jack Ross will be hoping Grigg is back firing on all cylinders after giving his ankle injury a rest this summer, with Sunderland fans also expecting much more from their star striker.

Grigg only managed five goals since joining the club as Sunderland struggled to kill off teams in the second half of the campaign.

We asked fans who was the biggest disappointment and Grigg picked up 74 per cent of the vote, with Jack Baldwin, Dylan McGeouch and Glenn Loovens also picking up votes.

A majority of fans feel that in order to get the best out of Grigg next term, Ross should persevere with a 4-4-2 system with another striker partnering Grigg in attack.

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Ross did try that on several occasions last season but the Black Cats were often overrun in midfield as a result.

Around a third of fans feel Grigg is better leading the attack in a 4-3-3 system, with 20 per cent favouring Grigg leading a 4-2-3-1 formation.

In order to supply the ammunition for the Sunderland strikers to fire, fans want the club to prioritise pace and creativity in the final third when it comes to their summer recruitment.

Four out of ten fans felt pace was the big thing lacking from the Sunderland side, with Ross also known to be looking to add options out wide after Lewis Morgan returned to Celtic after his loan spell.

Aiden McGeady was Sunderland’s player of the year but he needs help and support on the other flank if the club is to maintain a promotion push next season.

The summer rebuild is underway after it was announced seven players, including Adam Matthews, Robbin Ruiter and Max Stryjek would be leaving the club.

At least one goalkeeper, clearly, will need to be added to provide competition for Jon McLaughlin with the club looking to move on several big earners.

Bryan Oviedo is the one fans would most like to see depart, the left-back picked up 36 per cent of the vote.

Adam Matthews, who has left, secured 17 per cent of the vote, with Duncan Watmore and Lee Cattermole picking up just six per cent, though a third of fans that took part in our big survey voted they’d like to see all the high earners leave as Sunderland prepare for a

second season in the third tier.

Sunderland supporters were split when it came to which younger player they would like to see given more game time with Ethan Robson, who spent the second half of last year out on loan at Dundee picking up 20 per cent, Bali Mumba 27 per cent, Benji Kimpioka 22 per cent and Elliot Embleton - yet to commit his future to the club amid increasing concern he will leave this summer - winning 29 per cent of the vote.

We also canvassed opinion on Luke O’Nien and whether he should remain at right back next season after an impressive debut campaign in that position, or should he be moved further forward into midfield, his natural role.

Sunderland fans were clear.

A total of 72 per cent stated his ability is wasted in defence and they want to see him moved upfield to make the most of his energy and ability.

Full back will certainly be an area Ross will look to strengthen following Matthews’ departure.