Returning Players: Will Grigg

Will Grigg
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Welcome to Last Word on Football’s ‘Returning Players’ series. In this edition, we look at striker Will Grigg.

The 29-year-old is currently in his second loan spell at League One side MK Dons, having been part of the 2014/15 promotion-winning squad under Karl Robinson. He currently sits on 25 goals for the club across his two spells, placing him joint-tenth in the club’s all-time top scorers list.

Returning Players – Will Grigg

First Spell at MK Dons

Grigg joined MK Dons on loan from Brentford prior to the start of the 2014/15 season. The Bees had secured promotion to the Championship in the previous campaign, but with Grigg only netting five times in 36 appearances, the club felt it best to give him another season in League One.

After scoring on his debut in the 4-2 opening day win against Gillingham, Grigg went three games without a goal, while fellow loanee Benik Afobe was given the nod in the away match at Chesterfield and subsequently scored the winning goal.

However, soon came the night where Grigg really introduced himself to the MK Dons fans, as he scored the opening two goals in the famous 4-0 win over Manchester United in the second round of the League Cup.

The first came after pressure from Ben Reeves forced United’s captain for the night, Jonny Evans, into a mistake that allowed Grigg a simple finish past David de Gea. The second, though, was a goal seen all around the world for its sheer audacity.

After neatly laying off for Reeves, Grigg set off for the box while Reeves got down the wing with the ball before sending an inch-perfect cross into the box. Rather than darting forward to get his head to it, though, Grigg waited for another split second and instead chested the ball into the bottom corner, beyond the grasp of de Gea, putting the Dons 2-0 up and in control.

Perhaps unfortunately for Grigg, the next two goals coming from substitute Afobe led to him coming into the team more and starting three of the five subsequent games, but such was the Dons’ proficiency in front of goal that season, the pair always seemed to be on the scoresheet no matter who was starting and who was coming on later.

When January came around, though, Afobe was recalled from his loan by parent club Arsenal and sold to Championship side Wolves, where he would go on to excel.

This left Grigg and new loan signing Devante Cole as the Dons’ options up front and the former stole the show, helping his side to run riot in many games as they stormed towards automatic promotion.

A rocky period between February and March threatened to derail their progress and allowed Preston North End to get ahead of them in the race (largely for second place as Bristol City powered towards the title). However, after getting back on track, they went on to go unbeaten in their final 11 games of the season, clinching promotion on the final day after they beat Yeovil Town 5-1 and Preston failed to beat Colchester United.

In that time, Grigg found the net 11 times – more than the rest of the season combined – thus ensuring that the club secured promotion to the Championship for the first time.

Teams That Will Grigg Played for in Between

Grigg admitted (though, much later on, when he re-signed for the club) that he had wanted to stay and work out a permanent deal following the expiration of his loan from Brentford. But, after a deal could not be done, he remained in League One after completing a permanent move to Wigan Athletic.

His 25 goals in that campaign helped Wigan to earn automatic promotion back to the Championship at the first attempt, thus leapfrogging his former side as MK Dons came straight back down after just one season in the second tier.

Such was his form in that season, he was tied in 25th place in the initial voting process for the UEFA Best Player in Europe Award and he was part of the Northern Ireland squad at Euro 2016, where his famous ‘Will Grigg’s on Fire’ chant started at Wigan became an unofficial anthem of the tournament.

Wigan came straight back down to League One again after finishing second from bottom in 2016/17, a huge nine points off safety in the final table. It was, overall, a disappointing Championship return for Grigg too, who managed just five league goals.

Again, though, Wigan stormed to promotion in the 2017/18 season – themselves and Blackburn Rovers running away with it at the top, though it was Wigan who clinched the title by two points. Grigg was back to his best, too, scoring 19 times in the league and hitting the winner in an FA Cup success over Manchester City.

He even scored in the 5-1 rout of former side MK Dons, which was one of the key games in their terrible end of season run that relegated them to League Two, putting a massive gap between themselves and their former player.

Midway through the 2018/19 campaign, despite performing better than his previous Championship seasons, Grigg made the return to League One when Sunderland came calling with a huge deadline day offer that was detailed in Netflix’s ‘Sunderland ‘Til I Die’ series.

The multi-million-pound deal, though, failed to work out, and Grigg’s time on Wearside since his move in early 2019 has been a disappointing one.

He was largely given the benefit of the doubt in his first half-season as he continued to settle in, but he struggled massively in the 2019/20 campaign and he scored just once before the season was curtailed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with Sunderland in eighth.

Return to MK Dons

After struggling to get his season going at Sunderland again, Will Grigg was sought after by several clubs in the January transfer window of 2021. MK Dons’ interest had been registered early on, although Shrewsbury Town were also in the mix of potential clubs going into deadline day.

Finally, though, MK Dons were able to welcome back one of the key players in the club’s history when his loan from Sunderland until the end of the season was confirmed late into the night.

Bizarrely, the Dons’ next two games were actually against Sunderland (firstly in the Papa John’s Trophy and then in League One), so Grigg was ineligible for the first two games he was back for. However, he made his long-awaited second debut in the away win at Rochdale and made an instant impact, providing a neat assist for Matt O’Riley to open the scoring inside five minutes.

Grigg was also heavily involved in the build-up to Cameron Jerome’s goal which put his side 4-1 up.

In his next outing, the striker found the net for the first time in a Dons shirt since 2015, steering home the second goal in a 4-3 win against Northampton Town.

Since then, he has also been on target in the losses against Shrewsbury Town and Gillingham but has largely impressed with his work rate and how quickly he has adapted to the new style of play at the club under Russell Martin.

Given the expectancy that Grigg is on much higher wages at Sunderland (it’s reported that MK Dons are only paying a quarter of the sum while he’s on loan there), many fans are under the impression that this isn’t a long-term return for the player and more just something to help him get his confidence back and to help the club have the best possible finish to the season.

There’s no doubting that the quality is still there, though, despite what Sunderland fans may say to the contrary. At this level, Will Grigg can be unplayable, and if he does want to get back to his best, maybe a long-awaited permanent move to a club where he is adored wouldn’t be a bad move.

 

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