There’s nothing like a big price tag to get the critics out in force and they don’t come any bigger than £4m in League One.
Whilst the summer capture of Charlie Wyke was seemingly in line with a top end League One capture, the fee for Will Grigg had ‘Championship’ written all over it.
If there was ever an example of a big club flexing their muscles and reminding everyone what they are, it was Sunderland purchasing the Wigan man.
It was widely expected that Grigg, a huge hit with the Latics last season, would bring goals.
He bagged 26 in all competitions last season and had played regular Championship football this campaign. When the move was announced, up and down the country you could almost hear a collective ‘he’ll tear up that division’ being muttered.
His first couple of games didn’t pan out that way. Sunderland are stumbling to a play-off place rather storming to the top two. They’ve found it easy to keep up with Portsmouth, the early pace setters, but have been overtaken by Barnsley and Luton Town. Neither of those clubs spent £4m in the transfer window and yet both look incredible.
That’s why it was important for Sunderland to get a win last night against Gillingham, but anyone who saw they’d scored four goals would have immediately wondered; ‘did Grigg get one?’
It was a go-to response. The striker is big news and that must have been weighing on his shoulders to a certain degree. Last season he netted plenty for Wigan, but with no price tag, no expectation. 32,000 Black Cats’ fans certainly add to the pressure more than a few thousand from Wigan.
After twice taking the lead and twice being pegged back, those home fans will have been restless. They needed this win, not just for the three points but in the context of the whole promotion hunt. If they didn’t win they could virtually kiss goodbye to the top six. It was that critical.
When Leonardo Da Silva Lopes tripped Luke O’Nien and the referee pointed to the spot, there could only be one taker. You pay £4m for players who will step up, who take responsibility. It was a penalty on which Will Grigg hung his reputation, one which Sunderland hung their slender automatic promotion aspirations.
It was a season-defining spot kick.
When the net rippled and the Wearsiders erupted with joy, it must have been a spine-tingling moment for Grigg. Instantly, he’d repaid a small portion of that huge fee. In a moment, he’d taken some of the pressure off his shoulders.
It was evident in their play too as they went on and killed off the game, something they’ve not been able to do since the turn of the year.
One penalty doesn’t prove he’s a top signing. One goal won’t be enough to repay the fans or the club, but last night Will Grigg stood up to be counted and might just have saved his own reputation as well as Sunderland’s season.