Walshie says... Josh Maja!
If there is one moment you could point at for Sunderland’s failure to gain promotion, it would’ve been Josh Maja’s departure in January.
The 20-year-old surprised management with how naturally he took to League One, often bamboozling defences and managing to produce goals from absolutely nothing.
Maja was instrumental in Sunderland’s excellent start to the campaign and when games were tight, he had the ability to produce a bit of magic that would dig his team out of a hole.
He had the ability to drag opposition players out of position, give himself that extra bit of space to lash home goal after goal.
Unfortunately, his stellar record in his first full season as a professional was not good enough for certain sections of the fanbase. Like Lewis Grabban before him, he was labelled as “lazy” and was accused of “only scoring goals” because what really gets some fans going is seeing strikers chase lost causes all day.
His departure only highlighted how important he was to not only the club but how Jack Ross envisaged his team to play. He ended the season as the club’s top goalscorer despite leaving halfway through, and it will forever be the biggest ‘what if?’ moment of the campaign and probably years to come.
On a personal note, I will forever in his debt for scoring in the last minute against Morecambe so we didn’t have to endure anymore of possibly the worst game of football I have ever witnessed.
Gav says... Luke O’Nien!
Whilst I concede that Josh Maja did a sterling job in the first part of the season - certainly enough to earn himself a move to a top Ligue 1 club - it was former Watford and Wycombe man Luke O’Nien who captured my attention most over the entirety of the campaign.
The majority of our fans love him because they love nothing more than to see players who are just nice people that try their best and work incredibly hard for the club, genuinely want to be here and, above all else, show notable improvements in their all-round game throughout the season.
O’Nien arrived here during the summer, and after looking like a rabbit caught in the headlights in his debut appearance on the opening day of the season against Charlton he quickly found himself completely out of the side and out of favour with Jack Ross.
Then, having had time to bed in, he was thrown in at right back when he had never played there before because of an injury crisis and hasn’t really looked back, keeping an established international with Champions League and Premier League experience in Adam Matthews out of the side ever since.
He’s everything you want in a young player coming to the club with a point to prove and in a year where Sunderland’s recruitment has been largely terrible, O’Nien is without a doubt the greatest find of Tony Coton’s fated tenure as the club’s Head of Recruitment.
Graham says... Josh Maja!
Without Josh Maja consistently banging in the goals at the beginning of the season, it’s a little scary to think how far away we would have been from where we expected to be - i.e. the top end of the table - considering how relatively poor we were from January onward without being able to call upon his goalscoring prowess to dig us out of tricky situations.
Josh Maja’s movement and finishing was scarily good for a player with such inexperience, and the fact he ended the season as our top scorer despite leaving the club in January attests to the fact that he was simply a fantastic player with qualities that wouldn’t look out of place at a level far above the one we find ourselves at currently.
Jack Ford says... Josh Maja!
Luke O’Nien and George Honeyman are pretty much the only other “youngsters” to have played a key role for us this season, and at 24 they’re hardly that.
It’s good to see our young players finally get some loan experience, but we’ve not really had the luxury of blooding youth into the side this season.
Despite this, Josh Maja remains the finest youth product to play in Sunderland’s side this season and I have to agree with both Walshie and Graham before me - he gets my vote.
Don’t forget to head over to our Twitter page to vote for your winner - join us tomorrow as we present the nominees for Sunderland’s Goal of the Season Award!