Striker Josh Maja impresses Sunderland manager in Austria

Highly-rated striker Josh Maja. Picture by Frank Reid.
Highly-rated striker Josh Maja. Picture by Frank Reid.
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Simon Grayson believes Sunderland have an “exceptional talent” in Josh Maja.

The 18-year-old striker has been out in Austria with the Under-23 and first-team squads – and he has caught the eye of his new manager.

Maja netted 14 goals in 25 appearances for the Under-23s last season and Grayson admits that he was aware of the promising forward before he took charge at the club.

Sunderland are short of strikers after the departures of Jermain Defoe, Fabio Borini and Victor Anichebe.

With less than a month before the Championship campaign kicks off against Derby County on August 4, bolstering his striking options is a priority for Grayson.

In the meantime, Maja is expected to given the opportunity to stake a claim in the upcoming friendly matches, with Sunderland travelling to face League One Bury tomorrow night (7.30pm kick-off).

“Maja has been good. I knew about him before we came. He is an exceptional talent,” said Grayson.

“The way we are in terms of the squad at the top end of the pitch then these younger lads will get an opportunity over the next few games at the very least.

“We said from day one the Under-23 players are not here to make up the numbers, but to make an impression.

“Do that and they have a chance for the season and I have been impressed with the younger players as well as the older players.”

The Sunderland players fly back to the UK today after a busy first week in charge for Grayson.

He added: “It has been a whirlwind four or five days. I feel like I have been here three years already!

“I have been constantly on the phone, trying to do some deals, getting to know the players and the staff.

“Once we get back to England, we are into the game against Bury.

“We are not the finished article with the squad and what we have been doing, it has been about the fitness levels.

“We will put out a team as another training exercise and then, over the next few weeks, it will build towards the start of the season.”

* Sunderland’s away game against Derby County, scheduled for Easter Saturday, has been brought forward to Good Friday (March 30) and will now kick-off 7.45pm.