So who is Will Grigg and will he be the man to propel Sunderland back to the Championship? We asked Nial Coulter from the Northern Irish fanzine Happy Days to give us the craic
Paris, Euro 2016. Bastian Schweinsteiger turns to salute the Green and White Army. We’ve just about finished our 27th loop of our adopted song featuring a striker who didn’t even get one minute of playing time in the whole tournament.
But Will Grigg is more than a song and more than a cult hero to Northern Ireland fans. His inclusion in the international set-up is not to sell tickets and certainly not a marketing gimmick. This didn’t stop Hamburg considering a bid for the striker for those exact reasons.
Let’s please the stat fans first. Grigg’s scoring record at League One level is consistently high and you would do well to find a striker who has scored more goals in England’s third tier this decade. After making his international debut in 2012 in a 6-0 drubbing by the Netherlands (ow), Will became a regular for Walsall hitting 20 goals as his side finished 8th in League One. Not bad, when you consider his first goal of the season wasn’t until October. This earned the striker a move to Brentford and despite his new club earning automatic promotion, the goals didn’t flow.
MK Dons took Grigg on loan the following season and the goals swiftly returned. Twenty in the league and a couple against Manchester United in the League Cup was a career-best in a season that once again finished with automatic promotion.
Perhaps feeling confident at League One level, Grigg made the move to Wigan Athletic who had been surprisingly relegated from the Championship. After a slow start, Will continued his trend of upping his scoring rate after Christmas to lead Wigan to the title and promotion back to the Championship.
Grigg had been on the fringes of the Northern Ireland squad, making the odd substitute appearance as in the World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016 qualifiers. However, his electric form in the second half of the 2015-16 season, scoring 20 goals in the last 21 games of the season, forced Michael O’Neill to seriously consider Grigg for his Euro 2016 squad.
A first international goal against Belarus in Northern Ireland’s final game before the squad was announced earned him the nod as the fourth striker ahead of Liam Boyce and Billy McKay. There was no denying the player’s confidence was sky high and THAT song had recently gone viral, giving Grigg the X-Factor and offering some excitement for the Green and White Army as Northern Ireland headed to France.
Perhaps a combination of the overwhelming hype, the WGOF song taking over every interview and the step up to a higher division destined that, despite early season promise of six goals before the end of September, Will struggled for form in season 2016-17 and the goals dried up. Wigan were relegated.
Niggling injuries meant the League One campaign of 2017-18 started slowly with only three goals before November. Fear not! Grigg hit full fitness and form, storming into the New Year with a hatful of goals as Wigan took the League One title for the second time in three seasons.
What kind of striker can Sunderland fans expect? Grigg’s strengths are his finishing, a fox in the box kind of striker whose best football shines through when he’s part of a front two. He’s not been in poor form this season so his transfer to Sunderland may come as a bit of a surprise as many Northern Ireland fans in particular thought this could be the season where Will Grigg finally makes his mark on the Championship. Ironically, picking up a hamstring injury playing for Northern Ireland in Austria seems to have put pay to such ambition and only in recent weeks has he managed to get back to full match fitness.
Despite the results, Grigg has performed well for Northern Ireland this season, grabbing a consolation goal against Bosnia and hitting the post in Vienna. He is certainly in strong contention to start in the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers in March. After all, it’s January and he’s about to start scoring a shit load of goals once more, for Sunderland...