Mark - Yes, we need to trust in youth!
I found myself nodding along with everything Chris Coleman said after the debacle that was ourdisplay at Bramall Lane. The result came as a shock after the Lads had performed so well in the games against Burton, Wolves and Fulham. It looked like we had found our formation and it was all systems go.
Josh Maja had emerged from the bench to break the 364-day wait for a home win, showing a lovely touch from Matthews’ canny pass before holding off his defender and turning like a veteran striker - to ultimately find his spot beyond the keeper and inside the post.
Was this a fluke? An 18 year old who was in the right place at the right time? Far from it.
Maja was one of the standout performers throughout the summer; his skill, desire and attitude shone like a beacon for Simon Grayson. Maja suggested that the development of Pickford as our most recent Academy graduate was not going to be a one-time thing. Indeed, the conveyor belt of talent was in full flow.
Unfortunately, an injury against Bradford City in pre-season meant Maja missed a good few weeks before an operation was deemed necessary. His comeback started in mid-October for the under-23s against Arsenal and, two weeks later, Grayson was sacked.
Coleman took over the reigns just as Maja was building up his fitness. The Fulham game was two months to the day of that under-23s game and Maja made his Sunderland debut with great effect.
Since then, Coleman has continued to name him on the bench, despite tweaking his formation against Birmingham to accommodate two forwards and then choosing to retain Vaughan as a sole striker in the absence of the injured Grabban at Bramall Lane. Maja has made it onto the pitch for the last 15 minutes of both games and those minutes are vital in building experience in one so young.
But now is the time to take the next step and start the youngster against Forest.
He has experienced very different conditions in each of the games and this will stand him in good stead. He has shown a youthful fearlessness, a great deal of ability and composure, a good eye for bringing others into play and works hard as part of the team.
He may be young, but I’d argue he offers more than James Vaughan. The last couple of games have left me wondering whether Vaughan’s been to the same School of Strikers as Jozy Altidore.
There is an argument that Vaughan works hard, and I agree that he does cover some grass, but he seems lost and devoid of ideas when he has the ball. The cupping-of-the-ear gesture at Burton seemed to suggest we, as fans, had given him a rough ride and he was about to set us straight.
Well, not in the slightest, James. We’re all still covering our eyes at the passages of play you’re involved in.
By contrast, Maja has offered far more in his cameo appearances.
With Grabban out for a few weeks - and seemingly on the precipice of being recalled by Bournemouth this month - Coleman may be wondering if Josh can fill his boots as the lone striker. I dare say Maja could and would work far harder than Grabban within the team, if he was to start.
And if Coleman wishes to start two forwards, then Maja’s relationship with Asoro would lead the pair to starting, thus excluding Vaughan for the trip to Nottingham.
As a final point, Forest won’t know much about the young academy graduate. He’ll be an unknown quantity - and that could work in our favour.
Given we need to get the wheels back on track after a ‘meh’ performance against Birmingham and a truly awful one at Sheffield United, Maja’s presence and ability as the focal point of our attack could serve us very well.
Chris – No, it’s too much too soon!
I’m a big advocate for giving the youngsters a chance to prove themselves in the senior fold. However, in the case of Josh Maja, I get the impression that the lad would benefit from slow and delicate exposure to the first-team scene.
Every now and then a young gem comes through the ranks at Sunderland - Henderson and Pickford to name just two. One thing that the pair had in common during their time here was their gentle introduction to the starting XI.
Both of these players went out to the lower leagues to prove themselves - on loan at Coventry City for Henderson, and a host of smaller clubs for Pickford - before returning to the club to fight for a first-team spot on Wearside.
Maja, at the raw young age of 19, must be given time to not only enhance his game but also to mature and find his role within the side. A goal in a cameo role against Fulham is a very good start, but I’m not getting carried away with the lad just yet and neither should the fan base. The last thing Maja needs is having to deal with the pressure to save his team from back-to-back relegations despite not making a professional league start in his career yet.
Maja most certainly has a role to play for the rest of this season, but it should not be as anything more than a fringe player benefiting from a gradual exposure.
What do you reckon, then? Is it time for Coleman to start Maja?
This poll is closed
Yes, we need to trust in youth!
No, it’s too much too soon!