Simon Grayson keen to ensure Sunderland incomings don’t block progress of Maja and other young stars

Josh Maja.
Josh Maja.

Simon Grayson is hopeful that Josh Maja can return to fitness and help solve his striker problem this season.

Maja misses the season opener against Derby County with a knee injury but should be back to full fitness shortly.

The Black Cats boss is likely to add another forward to his ranks, having already signed James Vaughan from Bury and Lewis Grabban on loan from Bournemouth.

A loan deal for Aston Villa’s Ross McCormack is close but after his sparkling role in pre-season, Maja could negate the need for a fourth signing up front.

Grayson warned, however, that the former Manchester City man will find life in the Championship very different to the pre-season tempo.

He said: “What he’s done in pre-season, the goals, his work rate and the hold up play, it has been very good. What you can’t replicate in pre-season is what it is like in the Championship and how he’s going to cope. That will be a situation where we’ll have to learn about him game by game. Him and Asoro have been good in pre-season but when it comes to Saturday, Tuesday and Saturday, the physical presence of these defenders, it is a different challenge.

“They’ll be around the squad but whether they play much, who knows. We might bring in players who have that little bit more than them at the moment.”

Grayson is also keen to ensure that incoming transfer business does not block the progress of the club’s best young talent.

The Sunderland boss has given significant game time to a raft of youngsters in the pre-season programme, with Maja the most impressive.

The likes of Joel Asoro and Elliot Embleton have also shown their potential and Grayson is keen to give them an opportunity.

He said: “I think by the end of August we’ll be in a stronger position because of McNair and Watmore getting back to fitness, and Oviedo as well. The additions of players coming in as well, but I’ve always said that I want to bring some of the young players through. The likes of Honeyman, Gooch, Embleton, Maja and others will be in and around the squad this year, partly to replace players who have gone but also because we can think they can do a good job and they’ve got the hunger and desire to do it.

“They want to make a living in the game, we’re not going to bring someone in just because they’ve got a name and will come for a two-year contract, these kids want to play for this club and run through a brick wall for it. If they’re good enough they’ll play.”

Sunderland begin their season against Derby County tonight, and Rams’ stopper Scott Carson thinks his side can benefit from high-profile names such as the Black Cats dropping into the second tier.

The Rams have been strong favourites for promotion in recent seasons but fallen short on each occasion.

Carson said: “There are so many strong teams in the division this season, especially those coming down from the Premier League,

“I think that has done us a favour, really, because people aren’t really talking about us as much as other teams at the minute, which is good.

“In the past couple of seasons, we’ve had a lot of pressure on us going into the first few games, with some people saying we’re already guaranteed promotion.

“With us going under the radar a little bit, hopefully that can help us.

“Obviously, promotion is the long-term goal but there’s no point getting carried away and thinking about the end of the season right now,” he added.

“I think our priority has to be the first five or six games. After them, we can have a look and see where we are.

“Hopefully, we’ll be right up there at the top and we can stay there this time.”