Why Will Grigg looks set to hit the goal trail as Jack Ross' Sunderland masterplan unfolds

Jack Ross always had a plan in mind for Will Grigg - and now it's starting to come to fruition.

Wednesday, 20th February 2019, 2:24 pm
Updated Wednesday, 20th February 2019, 2:36 pm
The stats suggest that Will Grigg is set to hit the goal trail at Sunderland

It took four games for the Wigan Athletic striker to hit the goal trail, netting a penalty in the 4-2 win over Gillingham to end his barren run.

The converted spot-kick was far from just a goal, however. It signified the completion of a 345 minute evolution - which saw Sunderland adapt to having the prolific goalscorer in their ranks.

Will Grigg's heat-map against Oxford (Image: Wyscout S.p.a)

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The addition of Grigg was always going to lead to a change, if only a subtle one, in the way Sunderland played.

The 27-year-old isn't a creator, that much was known before he arrived on Wearside, but it took time for the Black Cats to change their style of play to suit the striker.

Visual data, courtesy of Wyscout, perfectly emphasises how Sunderland have managed to change their style of play to cater to Grigg's strengths.

Shown above are the striker's heat-maps from his appearances against Oxford - his debut - and in the more recent fixture with Gillingham.

Will Grigg's heat-map against Gillingham - note his further involvement in the final third (Image: Wyscout S.p.a)

In the Oxford game, Grigg was forced to drop deep to try and pick up possession, and had very few touches in the final third.

It's interesting that this heat map is extremely similar to those of Josh Maja in many of his Sunderland appearances this season, which perhaps suggests the Black Cats were still playing to their former talisman's strengths at this early stage.

Fast forward to the visit of Gillingham, and Grigg is far more involved in the final third than he was at the Kassam Stadium - as evidenced by his heat-map from that fixture.

Some would attribute this to the fact that Sunderland were playing at home in the second fixture and - while that is a worth consideration - there are a depth of other stats that show that Sunderland are starting to play their new striker's strengths.

Ross' plan has always been for his strikers - whether that be Grigg, Maja or Charlie Wyke - to receive plenty of service in the opposition box.

That was a struggle at Oxford, where Grigg received the ball just 48 times over the course of ninety minutes. It was telling that he mustered just one shot during the entire afternoon in Oxfordshire, with his expected goals (xG) at 0.06.

But those stats have improved over time, with Sunderland supplying Grigg with the kind of service that Ross has craved. His expected goals in each fixture have climbed game-on-game, from Blackpool (xG = 0.61) to Accrington (xG = 0.68) and then on to Gillingham (xG = 0.8).

This only serves to emphasise how Ross' masterplan is starting to unfold, with the Black Cats beginning to deliver plenty of ammunition to Grigg.

And if that continues, then it would be no surprise if the striker continues hitting the goal trail.