Sunderland legend Kevin Phillips has claimed that the Black Cats would have been promoted to the Championship last year had they held onto striker Josh Maja.
The 21-year-old was fantastic in the first half of the 2018/19 campaign, scoring 15 goals in 24 League One appearances, but left the club to join Bordeaux last January.
With time against them, the Black Cats scrambled to replace Maja before the winter transfer window slammed shut and brought in Will Grigg from Wigan.
It was not a move that worked particularly well for the North East club, with Grigg finding the net just five times in the second half of the season and Sunderland missing out on promotion following defeat to Charlton Athletic in the play-off final.
Behind the scenes footage of Maja’s exit recently featured in series two of the ‘Sunderland Til I Die’ documentary on Netflix.
Speaking after watching the docu-series, Phillips told Football Insider that the Black Cats would’ve been promoted to the Championship had he stayed.
He explained: “You would have to say they would have been in the Championship had he of stayed. He was on fire.
“When you watch the Netflix series it highlights how important he was to the football club – important goals. Maja is a natural goalscorer. Since he has left they have not replaced him. Nobody has come in and set it alight.
“It was clear it was a money option. For a young lad, staying at Sunderland would have been ideal. If he scored the goals to take them up he would forever be in the hearts of the fans.”
The Black Cats will feel they have an excellent chance to make up for last year’s missed opportunity when the 2019/20 season resumes.
Phil Parkinson’s side are seventh in League One – only outside the play-offs on goal difference and just three points back from the automatic promotion places.
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This claim from Phillips is likely to be a painful one for Sunderland fans to hear, not least because you’d imagine most will agree with him.
Maja was in inspired for in the first half of the season but the Black Cats have struggled to replace him since.
Had the 21-year-old been at the club, you do feel Sunderland would have had enough to make it back to the Championship.