In the past 20 years just four players have scored 20 goals in a season for Wigan Athletic. Nathan Ellington scored 24 and Jason Roberts got 21 when Latics were promoted from the Championship in 2004-05. Graeme Jones scored 31 when they gained promotion by winning Division 3 in 1996-97.
Will Grigg has scored 23 goals already this season, 20 in league games and 3 in cup competitions. His team is already practically odds-on for promotion. The goals of Ellington, Roberts and and Jones were key to their team’s promotion successes. It looks like those of Grigg could prove to be the same.
It is the third time that Grigg has exceeded the 20 goal per season mark with a League 1 club. He first did it for Walsall in 2012-13, leading him on to win their player of the Season and Players’ Player of the Season awards. However, rather than build on his successes in the midlands Grigg moved on to Brentford, who at the time were then in League 1 under the management of Uwe Rosler.
The move from Walsall had been acrimonious. The player had been out of contract, but since he was under 24 a Football League tribunal required Brentford to pay a £325,000 fee plus add-ons. The Walsall manager Dean Smith said at the time that “If he were leaving to go to a better side I would have thought he would have done better than Brentford.” Ironically Smith now finds himself manager at the West London club.
Given his success in League 1 it had seemed that Grigg would be moving up a level, to the Championship at least. His move to Brentford did not work out as he would have hoped and in the 2014-15 season he was sent off on loan to the MK Dons, an eventful move which put him in the limelight when he scored a brace to knock Manchester United out of the League Cup, scoring 20 goals in the league.
In June 2015 David Sharpe’s gave his guarantee that Wigan would have a 20 goal striker in their lineup this season. In mid-July he got his man, paying Brentford £900,000 for Grigg. It was a huge fee for a club in League 1 to splash out, particularly for a player who had never played at a level above League 1. Grigg was brought in to provide the firepower to get Latics out of League 1, but were Latics also looking beyond that? Were they expecting Grigg make it as a striker in the Championship?
At his best Grigg is a handful for any opposition defender. He has the ability to time his runs to create space when surrounded by the tightest of defences. His workrate cannot be faulted and he is a real team player. Grigg relies on his intelligent movement rather than sheer physical power to get past defenders. He is a genuine goal poacher, a dying breed in the modern game. Grigg also has a good temperament as evidenced by receiving just one yellow card in the season so far. This is despite the rugged treatment he so often gets in a division where too much cynical and tactical fouling goes unpunished by referees. Still only 24 years old his best is surely yet to come.
However, like any striker Grigg can have his off days. In the visit to Walsall in February he had at least five gilt-edged opportunities to score, but fluffed them all. Latics had to rely on a last minute winner from Yanic Wildschut to bring home the three points that their superior play had merited. But Grigg can opportunities with genuine aplomb, in the style of a “natural” goalscorer. There is finesse to Grigg’s game that suggests he can make it at a much higher level than the third tier of English football. As his confidence grows and he matures as a player he will put home an even higher proportion of the opportunities that come his way.
Grigg’s first season at Wigan did not start particularly well. In its first quarter Grigg had struggled to reach the goalscoring form that Caldwell would have hoped for. He had scored just three goals, two of which were penalties. After starting in the first six games he missed the match at Chesterfield through being on international duty for Northern Ireland. He came back as a 66th minute substitute at Port Vale, but was to pick up an elbow injury which kept him out of the next two games. He made his return as a 77th minute substitute, scoring the equalizer during added-on time against Millwall. Grigg returned to the starting lineup for the next game against Walsall, but was substituted after 70 minutes. However, international call up knocked on the door again and Grigg missed the last two matches at Crewe and Bury.
By Christmas Grigg had notched 8 goals for Latics. Since then he has scored 15 more. Grigg just does not seem to do so well in the earlier part of the season. In fact in his 20 goal season at Walsall he had only scored 5 by Christmas. At MK Dons he scored 9 by Christmas, followed by another 13 by time the season finished.
At Milton Keynes, Grigg had to play second fiddle to Benik Afobe until the latter’s 19 goals persuaded Wolves to pay serious money for him in January 2015. This and a loan move to Fleetwood of the Dons’ other main striker, Tom Hitchcock, opened up the door for Grigg to be the automatic choice as a lone centre forward. Grigg was to thrive on the consistency of having a regular first choice berth.
At 24 years of age, Will Grigg has a bright future ahead. His immediate target will be to score goals in the remaining five matches to help propel Latics back to the Championship. But the irony is that should that promotion come into effect and should Grigg continue to score goals, he will surely arouse the interests of the big clubs that dominate the English game.
Despite a slow start Will Grigg has become a key player in Wigan Athletic’s promotion push. Fans will be hoping he will continue to knock in the goals for the Latics for years to come.