Sunderland AFC player watch: Where does the blame lie for Will Grigg's poor performance against Oxford United?
New season, fresh faces, same old problem. Yet again, Sunderland struggled to get the best out of their main striker against Oxford United yesterday.
But what exactly is the problem with Will Grigg – who hasn’t scored in 298 competitive minutes – and Sunderland?
The Northern Ireland international signed for the Black Cats last January, but came carrying an ankle injury which hindered his early days at the club – however, with a full pre-season behind him, you’d expect Sunderland’s marquee signing to do be doing more.
Player and teammates have had more than enough time to become fully acquainted with each other.
More often than not, Grigg looks isolated. Elliot Embleton, for all his hard work in the number ten position, failed to provide much in the way of service for his teammate.
It’s no secret Sunderland struggle to get the ball to the frontman in positive positions, and it’s now been 11 games since any striker, Charlie Wyke, scored a goal in red and white – suggesting an underlying problem.
Sometimes, though, it’s six of one, and half a dozen of the other; the ex-Wigan forward looks static, immobile and all-together lacking in confidence.
Moreover, Grigg rarely attempts to stretch the opposition by splitting the centre-backs and making intelligent runs in behind the defensive line.
It’s difficult not to compare Sunderland’s under-performing striker to his over-performing predecessor, Josh Maja – a player capable of both coming short and playing on the shoulder.
Grigg’s partner in Jack Ross’ new look 3-5-2 formation, Marc McNulty, fared slightly better, however.
Like Grigg in his early Sunderland days, the former Coventry City star did at least take up some decent positions, driving forward with the ball on occasion. Two qualities lacked by McNulty’s striking colleague yesterday.
The situation feels very much like the chicken and the egg. The service to Grigg must be better with less high balls. However, the player has to work harder – something which was noted by many on Twitter post-match – and take up more intelligent positions.
But then again, is Ross new system suited to Sunderland's best-attacking outlets? That’s a question for another day.