Josh Maja on his future, setting Sunderland records and celebrating like Kylian Mbappe
It has been one of the defining images of Sunderland's start to the season.
Josh Maja, thrust into the limelight as Sunderland’s only fit striker, imitating Kylian Mbappe’s celebration after scoring yet another goal.
There have been four in four now, everyone one of them a delightful finish.
None reflected his soaring confidence better than the one which finally sunk Gillingham Town after their spirited resistance.
A glorious turn when space in the box was tight, followed by a deft finish that left the goalkeeper with no chance of making a save.
Remarkably, Maja is now the first Sunderland player to score in the opening four games of the season since the great Dave Halliday, who scored in the first eight matches of the 1927-28 campaign.
Halliday would go on to score 35 times in that season, finishing his Sunderland career with 165 goals.
Only Charlie Buchan and Bobby Gurney have scored more for the Black Cats.
“That’s crazy! I’ve worked hard to be in the team and get my chance in game,” Maja said.
“I’ve been able to take my chances and help the team to get results so hopefully that can continue.”
Maja is softly spoken but there is no doubting his confidence.
The 19-year-old backs himself to keep the goals flowing, starting at AFC Wimbledon tomorrow.
“Yeah, it does feel like everything is going to go in,” he laughs. “I’m in a good place right now and I’m confident so whenever I get the opportunity to shoot I’m believing that it’s going to go into the net. If I continue that, they’ll keep going in.
“You’ll see another celebration on Saturday. Definitely.
“It is a lot of fun [playing in this team] because we’ve got the players to play attacking football and a manager who backs us to go out onto the pitch and show what we can do.
“As players if the manager’s giving us that confidence, we’re going to show it.
“As a group we’ve grown together. We’re going to go a long way this season so we have to stick together. We’re going to go down in games like we did at Gillingham and if we want to go far in this league we have to stick together to get good results.
“I’m gaining a lot of confidence from these games, and just from getting more game-time and more goals. Hopefully I can continue to do that.”
Maja’s future has been the subject of much discussion this summer, but he made clear he was happy to stay at the club and has benefited from the decision of his close friend, Joel Asoro, to move on.
The youngster has less than a year left on his Sunderland deal but manager Jack Ross has been clear that he does not expect that issue to be addressed until after the window shuts next week.
His message to Maja was to focus on scoring goals, with the rest certain to look after itself if he manages that.
It is a message that has been heeded.
“The only thing I’m focusing on is playing games and helping this team to get good results,” Maja said.
“That’s all I can do. I’m not really thinking about a year, two years from now, I’m thinking about right now and what I can do for the team.
“This is where I’m at. I was obviously hoping I would get my chance and I have.
“Training has been a big thing because I’ve worked hard to show the coaches what I can do and they’ve given me the chance in games. I’ve repaid that faith and hopefully I can continue to do that.
“As long as we keep working as a team I think we can keep winning games and if I keep my head focused and stay hungry I think I can keep scoring goals.”
Charlie Wyke is set to return in the coming weeks, with Jerome Sinclair to follow.
Maja will soon find he has genuine competition for his place but the striker will take it in his stride.
“I don’t feel that pressure [of being the only fit striker]. I just go out and play, I’ve done that since I was young. I’m just enjoying myself and working hard for the team.
“We’re waiting for them [Wyke and Sinclair] to come back and when they do it will be healthy competition for me to keep my head down and keep keep working hard.
“As long as I’m doing what I’m doing on the pitch it won’t be a problem.”