Will Grigg shows he can be a fine Sunderland striker as Jack Ross pays classy tribute to his predecessor

It was a year to the day that Will Grigg glided through the Manchester City defence and scored what may well be the most memorable goal of his career.

Wednesday, 20th February 2019, 2:38 pm
Updated Wednesday, 20th February 2019, 2:43 pm
Will Grigg's performances have hinted at a successful Sunderland career

This one was very different.

But the passion of his celebration told you that it meant an awful lot just the same.

Will Grigg's performances have hinted at a successful Sunderland career

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It was a high to end a week that had much promise but ultimately even greater frustration.

Grigg has not played much this season but post-match he was eager not to present that as an excuse for his missed opportunities earlier in the week.

He is a driven and confident goalscorer who expects to deliver.

He will.

The newly arrived striker struggling to get off the mark is a familiar narrative for Sunderland supporters but right from the off, it has been clear that Grigg is not going to fall into that category.

Those misses against Blackpool and Accrington Stanley were a surprise but it felt significant in that second game when Grigg fought hard to battle back from his first half frustration.

After a brilliant turn in Accrington’s half, Grigg drove straight at goal and rather than looking to lay it off, fired an ambitious effort at goal.

Not long after, another superb, instinctive turn in the box presented another opportunity.

The 27-year-old was desperately unlucky to see both efforts in that move blocked.

It’s the trait of any good goalscorer that bad misses don’t affect their game.

Grigg’s celebration against Gillingham showed his frustration but his performances had been unaffected.

His efforts have been arguably the most promising aspect of a week that has delivered better performances than results.

It has been one of Jack Ross’ biggest concerns this season that he has not had a player whose instinct is to play off the defender’s shoulder, making runs into the channel and looking to make most of his touches in the penalty box.

Even Josh Maja, one of the best finishers we have seen on Wearside for a number of years, preferred to drop a little deeper and play on the edge of the area.

Grigg has already looked like a player perfectly suited to Ross’ tactical approach and one with the belief to carry the burden of being Sunderland’s main goalscoring hope.

When he says he will deliver so long as he keeps getting in the right positions, you believe it.

More importantly, so does he.

Jack Ross will hope that this is the start of a long scoring run and Grigg, who clearly feels he has a point to prove in the division above, feels a perfect fit for where Sunderland are now.

Sunderland may remain outsiders for automatic promotion as it stands, but another couple of goals for Grigg and supporters will feel a lot more relaxed about the Maja saga which at one stage threatened to derail their progress.

That was a fractious time for the club but Ross spoke superbly well on the issue as he collected the striker’s Young Player of the Year trophy at the North East Football Writer’s Association awards on Sunday night.

It felt fitting, after the dust had settled a touch, to mark Maja’s meteoric rise in the second half of 2018.

When he first unveiled his celebration against Charlton, you would have had long odds on him coming close to sharing a pitch with the player who inspired him, Kylian Mbappe, at the Parc des Princes within a matter of months.

Ross said shortly after his departure that he felt Maja may reflect on some things he could have done differently, but there remains a real mutual respect and Ross revealed that the striker had been back to the Academy to say thanks to those who helped ignite his career.

Doubts will remain about the size of the step he has taken so early in his career but he has clearly done something to impress his new manager, making his first start in a derby against Toulouse on Sunday afternoon.

It has not been an easy transition but Ross has handled it as calmly as ever, and it is a rare success for Sunderland to have moved from one supremely competent striker to another.

They may have paid a bit over the odds and Ross may not have been too impressed with the process of signing Grigg itself, but his presence is one of the key reasons that you feel Sunderland still have something significant to say in this race for automatic promotion.

And at the same time, it shouldn’t forgotten that Maja was one of the main factors in them being part of the conversation in the first place.