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Sunderland v Walsall - Sky Bet League One

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On This Day (16th March 2019): Grigg grabs the winner in a vital win over Walsall!

It feels like an age ago, but it was only four years ago since we were relying on Will Grigg to score winning goals for the Lads...

Photo by Harriet Lander/Getty Images

Do you remember this game?

This was the infamous Walsall match where a ticket for this game guaranteed a Wembley ticket for Sunderland’s Checkatrade Trophy showdown with Portsmouth a fortnight from this date.

This was another one of Stewart Donald’s and Charlie Methven’s questionable marketing calls - one that went down like a lead balloon with supporters topping the long list along with the signing of Will Grigg which was embarrassingly portrayed in the Netflix series like a desperate boy chasing his ex after their break up.

With the League One promotion race heating up, Jack Ross’ men had to keep up the pace with the top two of Luton and Barnsley who were being superbly consistent throughout the season.

Walsall - who were struggling near the bottom of the table would have been seen as opponents who simply had to be beaten if we had any hopes for automatic promotion - though as always - we didn’t make it easy for ourselves.

On a typically windy Stadium of Light, after four minutes Walsall took the lead through an intuitive back flick from Josh Gordon. Gordon, who won the initial free-kick, was in the right place at the right time to flick home George Dobson’s inswinging set piece, with the flick finding the bottom right corner.

This shocked the 34,000-strong home crowd - but in fairness to Sunderland, they responded well. From this point onwards in the first half, we dominated proceedings with Aiden McGeady creating many opportunities. He and Will Grigg went close before Lee Cattermole finally hit the equaliser in a goal that goalkeeper Liam Roberts would not want to see again.

From a corner, the ball landed at Cattermole along the sideline of the goal - and from the tightest of angles he somehow crept into the net of the near post under Roberts’ arms.

Sunderland continued to persist in the second half - with McGeady going close when he spinned away from the Walsall defence and took a pot shot from outside the box.

The introduction of three changes was key - with Charlie Wyke particularly menacing when he came on. His physicality occupied the Walsall defenders which in turn opened more space for Grigg to roam into.

And it was Grigg - who had possibly his best game in a Sunderland shirt here - who got the winner on the 70th minute.

Sunderland v Walsall - EFL Sky Bet League 1 Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

After winning a long ball, Wyke laid the ball off to Grigg 25-yards out from goal and the strike powered his way towards the edge of the box before unleashing a low drive which found the bottom right corner.

It was a big moment for the team as the win brought us one point away from automatic promotion with a game to spare. Furthermore, it was thought that this could have been a turning point for Grigg too who had failed to live up to the high expectations placed on his shoulder after his dramatic move on deadline day.

Alas it was a false dawn with the striker only adding another couple of goals to his Sunderland tally. It was a move he clearly regretted - and he said as much a year on.

I absolutely loved my time at Wigan and, in hindsight, I probably should not have moved.

After the game, Jack Ross expressed his disappointment with the performance but was happy the team got the victory in the build up to the big occasion against Portsmouth at Wembley.

Furthermore, he singled out Luke O’Nien for praise in a match where very few stood out.

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for the players with the games we’ve had and the travelling we’ve done. A lot of them were running a little bit on empty.

I think that was the biggest driver for us – we knew we had to find a way to win the game and then we could have a breather. Psychologically I think it will also help us enjoy the build-up to the final as well.

I am delighted we have won, we have a fractured week, players away, then we come together properly in the lead up to the Portsmouth game, it’s encouraging the players to enjoy that.

Luke’s been consistently very good. I did have a little chuckle earlier in the week when I was being asked about him playing in the middle of the pitch.

He can play there but his consistency of performance he has been at his best playing full-back, nobody can deny that. That’s where he’s made his name, if you like.

Sunderland v Walsall - Sky Bet League One Photo by Harriet Lander/Getty Images


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