It’s fair to say we’ve had some decent strikers pull on the red and white stripes since my first game back in 1990.
I was lucky enough to see Marco Gabbiadini play in the flesh and manage a respectable nine league goals during 1990/91 in the top flight despite relegation. This was following three seasons as consecutive top scorer in the league with returns of twenty-one, eighteen and twenty-two.
Since Marco left the club at the beginning of the 1991/92 season, we have seen only two players score more than twenty league goals in a single season. No prizes for guessing that those are Kevin Phillips and Darren Bent.
Super Kev broke the thirty league goals barrier twice either side of a twenty-three league goal haul and Darren Bent managed twenty-four league goals during 2009/10.
Other than Phillips and Bent, we’ve had five players break the fifteen league goals barrier: Don Goodman, Marcus Stewart (twice), Stephen Elliott, Niall Quinn (twice) and of course Jermain Defoe (twice).
However, since the 1991/92 season, the clubs league top scorer has failed to bag fifteen or more goals in eighteen out of twenty-seven seasons making it - on paper at least - a one in three year event during that time frame.
Having - at the time of writing - completed twelve league games and approximately a quarter of 2018/19 league campaign, we now find ourselves with the top scorer in League One and the second highest scorer in the football league so far with nine goals from twelve games. This is, of course, Josh Maja who - and we have to keep reminding ourselves - is still only nineteen years of age.
Maja arrived at Sunderland in March 2015 signing a two-year scholarship after spending time in the youth set-ups at Crystal Palace, Fulham and Manchester City. He signed his first professional contract of his career to tie him to the club for three years in May 2016, which is due to expire next summer.
After making his debut in September 2016 in a 2-1 victory over QPR in the League Cup, Maja went on to make six league appearances in the starting XI and appearing eleven times as a substitute, scoring on his league debut at home to Fulham in December 2016.
The way the Lewisham-born centre forward has responded to the pressure of seeing the club signing Charlie Wyke for £1m and Jerome Sinclair on loan as competition, and then finding himself as the only recognised striker in the squad after injuries, has been nothing short of remarkable.
To perform under those circumstances can be tough for any professional, but at 19, to perform at the level he has, not only claiming the English Football League’s Young Player of the Month for August but also achieving an incredible 71% of shots this season being on target, is more than impressive by any standard.
However - incredibly - all of this doesn’t seem to be enough for some. The dissenting voices regarding him seem to have become louder in recent weeks targeting various attributes, culminating in calls for him to actually be dropped from the starting XI.
I don’t think anyone can deny he makes wrong decisions at times and doesn’t hold the ball up as well as we might hope, but taking into account he has now only started eighteen league games in his career to date, it’s fair to say he is still learning his trade.
Whilst he is scoring and the results are good, Maja should be the first name on the team sheet. In theory, the more game time the teenager has the greater the likelihood that we will see a gradually increasing contribution to the team’s general play.
Issues with injuries to forward players this season have placed the burden of scoring goals firmly on Maja’s shoulders, this could possibly lighten when those players return to fitness, possibly giving Maja more freedom than he has currently as the focal point of the team.
At his current rate, Josh Maja is on course for what would be thirty-six goals this season. However, we all know it doesn’t work out like that and nobody would be surprised if at some point the goals dried up and a rest was called for.
If this did occur, the negative voices among the fans would do well to give Maja the space to keep progressing and keep improving without added pressure. As in the case of most centre forwards, a dip in form is inevitably around the corner, but that learning curve will be as valuable as what is being gained from his current form.
In Jack Ross it appears he has a manager who will help him improve and give him the environment to fulfil his potential. If the club manage Josh Maja correctly - on and off the field - we could have some player on our hands, who could be around for years to come.