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Striker edges closer to first West Brom start

Josh Maja is closer to a first Albion start than ‘ever before’, claims boss Carlos Corberan.

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The striker, a summer free agent signing, netted his first Baggies goal as a substitute against Leicester last weekend and is pushing to be involved from the off against former club Sunderland tomorrow.

Nigerian Maja, 24, is recently back from more than two months out with an ankle injury and has had three cameos.

“I can tell you that one of these players is closer to playing,” Corberan said of Maja. “He’s closer to the first XI than ever before, only because before now he’s not been able to be.

“After this week of training, normally before Sunderland, he needs to be ready to play in the first XI. I will see if I play with him – or for the full game, normally no.

“Even if he’s not ready for the first time, I need to push the player because now it’s necessary for him and the team. At some point he will be ready.

“I have the same feeling from before the Bristol City game, when I felt he was ready. I start to have this feeling now.

“Before Bristol there was an international break, and we made a training game in our stadium. He accumulated more minutes and he gave me more confidence to make the step. Right now you have this possibility, but he’s been playing minutes in the games and has completed a good week of work.”

Maja top scored for French club Bordeaux in Ligue 2 – the French second tier – last season and Albion secured his services on a three-year deal despite interest from Bordeaux. He moved to France on a lenthy contract in 2019 in a move that was reported to rise to £3.5million.

He was building up his fitness after a minimal pre-season and looked in good shape before an ankle injury in the very closing stages of the 0-0 draw at Bristol City’s Ashton Gate in September, in an incident the visitors feel should have led to a penalty.

Corberan added: “After this week of work, if everything goes well, he should be in conditions to start in the team.

“With who? It can be with Asante, with Swift, these are two possibilities. Or Asante and Swift and him on the bench. Swift is a ten ten, Asante is a nine nine and Maja is a 9 and a 1/2. That’s why I like him a lot.”

Maja’s absence has further increased the burden, once again, on Brandon Thomas-Asante, Albion only other recognised senior centre-forward.

Thomas-Asante has netted five times in 18 appearances this term. On the odd occasion captain and winger Jed Wallace, now out with a shoulder problem, has led the line.

Albion’s other senior striker Daryl Dike is due to return from a lengthy Achilles lay-off in the near future. Corberan estimated another two weeks until the United States international can return to training from the injury he suffered in April.