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Maja savouring Sunderland lone striker mantle & Chelsea defender relishing Stadium of Light bow

Sunderland will rely on youngsters at both ends of the pitch this afternoon against Hull City. Josh Maja and Jake Clarke-Salter have been discussing their baptisms of fire in stepping up from youth football into a Championship relegation fight.

Sunderland Unveil New Loan Signing Jake Clarke-Salter Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Clarke-Salter on making his bow at the Stadium of Light

Sunderland’s first and - so far - only capture of the January transfer window will make his home bow for the Black Cats this afternoon. Jake Clarke-Salter joined Chris Coleman’s side earlier this month on loan from Chelsea.

In an interview with this afternoon’s official match programme, the 20-year-old says he’s now adjusted to his berth for the rest of the season ahead of a first outing at the Stadium of Light:

I think I’ve settled in properly now and I’m raring to go. I’ve come to play football and win games. Everyone is positive and they’re all trying their best. I’m going to do everything I can to help us win games.

Sunderland Training Session
Clarke-Salter warming up at the Academy of Light this week
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

Clarke-Salter endured a baptism of fire in his maiden start in a Sunderland shirt as Cardiff smashed four past his new team but the Chelsea prospect was one of the few to emerge with any semblance of credit.

Composed on the ball and tidy in the first half, the centre-back was welcomed to life in the Championship up against one of the biggest strikers he’ll face this season in Kenneth Zahore.

That encounter was not lost on Clarke-Salter but the youngster reckons there’s enough experience in the Sunderland back-line to learn from as he recounts in today’s edition of Red and White:

This league is very physical and can be quite direct. It’s a lot different to youth football. But one of the reasons that made me want to come here was playing alongside the captain John O’Shea. He’s a legend and he’s played a lot of games in the Premier League. I think I can only benefit from that. He’s a nice guy as well and he’s willing to help all of the younger players.

Clarke-Salter is likely to line up in a three-man central defence alongside O’Shea and fellow loanee, Tyias Browning, against Hull City this afternoon.

Maja on the pressure of being Sunderland’s only striker

With Sunderland failing in their desperate quest to bring in a striker for this afternoon’s crucial six-pointer against Hull, the burden of leading the line once again falls to teenager Josh Maja.

The 19-year-old will start his third game in a row in today’s 3pm kick-off but the striker tells today’s edition of Red and White that he’s taking his exposure to first team football one step at a time:

I’m just trying to learn from my experience of being part of the first team and getting opportunities. I feel like I’m improving as a player and getting stronger with each game I play.

Sunderland Training Session
Josh Maja in training at a cold Academy of Light on Wednesday
Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

With injuries continuing to ravage the first team squad, coupled with Chris Coleman’s ongoing mid-season overhaul, Maja is one of several member’s of Sunderland’s youth set-up to have been afforded the chance to impress this season.

But the difference between academy football and that of the Championship continues to mean Maja is on a steep learning curve:

The speed of the game is completely different to academy football and that’s the biggest difference. I’m enjoying being part of it and I’m sure we will improve our results.

Maja impressed in pre-season and had been looking forward to knocking on the first team door behind summer signings Lewis Grabban and James Vaughan before injury curtailed his introduction to the Championship.

Cardiff City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship
Maja in action against Cardiff last weekend
Photo by Athena Pictures/Getty Images

With both senior centre-forwards now departed, the Londoner could hardly have anticipated the mantle of being the club’s sole centre forward being thrust upon him as the season begins to get serious, but Maja reckons he’s coping with the pressure as he tells this afternoon’s match programme:

I think I’m handling it okay, I did stay grounded anyway and I’ll keep working hard. I want to improve as a player and I want to show that in first team games.

Such is the dearth of goal-scoring options in the Sunderland squad this afternoon, Maja is favourite to score first in a red-and-white shirt at odds of 7/1 with the next players rated as likely to find the net being Lynden Gooch and Aiden McGeady at 11/1. Haway, Josh lad.

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