On this day in 2017, Josh Maja scored on his debut against his previous club to secure SAFC’s first home win in 364 days.
This game was one of the very few wins we got in the 2017/18 season and was the first win at the Stadium of Light since we played Watford and won by the same score line with Patrick Van Aanholt getting the goal.
From the start, both sides didn't look like they could put the ball in the net. The first chance for The Black Cats would be a header from Sunderland’s top goal scorer that season, Lewis Grabban. He glanced at goal but it was a routine save for Fulham goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli. There would also be long range efforts from George Honeyman and Darron Gibson in the first half but they wouldn't be much of a test either for Bettinelli.
This is not to say that the Cottagers didn't have their own chances to speak of however. Most of the opportunities came on the left side as their left back, Ryan Sessegnon, would whip crosses into their forwards, but Stefan Johansen would miss the ball in his first chance. Then a cross from the right side of the pitch would be met by the head of Oliver Norwood but he would miss the target. The last significant attempt for our opponents would be for their captain Tom Cairney but Tyias Browning or now known as Jiang Guangtai put in a good piece of defending for once.
So, with it going to 0-0 at the break both teams could argue they deserved to be winning after 45 minutes, as Sunderland had the better shots on goal but Fulham dominated possession and seemed to be creating more attacking threats even if they didn’t test Robbin Ruiter.
The second half would begin with a chance from James Vaughan as his header was spectacularly saved by the goalkeeper as it hit his hand, went up and off of the bar. The match would start to become a tug or war between the two sides with chances again popping up on either side of the pitch, But Chris Coleman would make the decision to sub two of our young forwards, Joel Asoro and Josh Maja, on for Grabban and Vaughan.
Matthews would get the ball from Gibson on the left hand side and would make his way to the edge of the box where he would spot Maja in position in between two Fulham defenders and calm pass to Maja's feet was all he needed and as Maja pushed and turned away from his man he slotted it right passed Bettinelli. I remember watching this goal and my arms going numb from both adrenaline and the cold.
The remainder of the game for the Red and White side was just focused on defending our one goal lead and keeping the clean sheet. We held on to Maja’s goal for the remaining 13 minutes and got hold of our three points the Mackems were so desperate for. This match was a big game in the span of that season and served as a foreshadowing to Maja’s ability in front of goal the season after.