Sunderland's Will Grigg concern highlighted after Wembley defeat to Portsmouth

Sunderland striker Will Grigg endued a frustrating afternoon at Wembley.Sunderland striker Will Grigg endued a frustrating afternoon at Wembley.
Sunderland striker Will Grigg endued a frustrating afternoon at Wembley.
At the start of the week, Sunderland faced an anxious wait to see if star striker Will Grigg would be fit for Sunday’s Checkatrade Trophy final with Portsmouth.

The striker's ankle injury, which forced him to withdraw from the Northern Ireland squad, had caused a major headache for Black Cats manager Jack Ross but, despite the forward's lack of training in the build-up to the clash, Grigg was deployed from the start at Wembley, leading the line on his own against the Blues.

Ross admitted after the game Sunderland are constantly managing the striker's issue, a recurrence of the ankle injury Grigg suffered while playing for Wigan before his move to the Stadium of Light.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad
Grand CentralGrand Central
Grand Central

But while Grigg, 27, will have been desperate to prove his fitness at the national stadium, there's no question promotion from League One is the main aim, and the Black Cats will need the striker to be fit and firing for the run-in.

To do that, though, Sunderland must find the best way to utilise their £4million forward, who has a prolific record in the third tier.

Despite his willingness to chase down lost causes and sprint into the channels, Grigg was fairly anonymous at Wembley, where he was often barged off the ball by Portsmouth's burly centre-back duo - Matt Clarke and Christian Burgess.

Even when the Black Cats were dominating in the first half, Grigg failed to anticipate any of Sunderland's crosses into the Pompey box, and it took an Aiden McGeady free-kick on 39 minutes to finally make the Black Cats' dominance count.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Whether it was down to his lack of game time or the system Sunderland were playing, the large gaps between Grigg and his team-mates were noticeable, as the Northern Ireland international increasingly found himself isolated up top.

After the break, Grigg became more and more marginalised, unable to stem the tide with Sunderland hanging onto their 1-0 lead.

Ross' decision to withdraw his centre forward on 77 minutes, with Sunderland still 1-0 up, was bold but justified, given the striker's lack of training and waning influence on the game.

The slightly confusing aspect was the introduction of Max Power, which meant the Black Cats played out the closing stages without a recognised striker.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Lynden Gooch was moved into the centre forward position, despite Charlie Wyke being available on the bench.

It's unclear if a sooner introduction for Wyke would have helped Sunderland relieve the pressure late on, even if it would have meant a more direct approach.

Yet it was the former Bradford striker who set up McGeday for the equaliser in extra-time, following some neat hold-up play from the former.

With Grigg's ankle still a significant concern, Wyke will no doubt be called upon again during the run-in, maybe even on Wednesday night against Accrington Stanley at the Wham Stadium.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Yet, whoever starts up front, Ross must find a way to get the best out of his centre-forward to secure automatic promotion from League One.

Otherwise another trip to Wembley, via the play-offs, may be forthcoming.