Belfast Telegraph

Will Grigg withdraws from Northern Ireland squad as O'Neill reveals three more concerns

Will Grigg.
Will Grigg.

Will Grigg has pulled out of the Northern Ireland squad ahead of the Euro 2020 qualifying matches with Estonia and Belarus.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill revealed at his pre-match press-conference that the withdrawal is due to an ankle problem that has been ongoing since January and was aggravated during Sunderland's win over Walsall at the Stadium of Light.

Grigg had score in the game but, O'Neill explained, only played 90 minutes because Sunderland's three substitutions had already been made. The striker has now returned to his club.

"He wasn't going to be incontention tomorrow night and it was unrealistic to expect him to be fit for Sunday," said O'Neill. "Disappointment because Will has something to offer but injury, as it did earlier in the Nations League, has deprived him of that opportunity to really stake a claim for a starting place.

"Will has never really had a run for us. He's been carrying the ankle injury since January. It was in his best interests to let him go back to his club and receive tratement.

"We have other options. We have Liam (Boyce), Conor (Washington), Josh (Magennis) and Kyle (Lafferty). We've the likes of young Paul Smyth who can play thrugh the middle as well. It is disappointing. In the Nations League, Will showed he's capable of scoring and getting chances at this level but unfortunately for these two games he won't be with us."

Grigg has scored three goals since joining the Black Cats from Wigan in January. The club is set for a packed schedule after the break, with eight League One games in April after the Checkatrade Trophy final against Portsmouth next Sunday.

Grigg has scored twice in 13 appearances for Northern Ireland, his last goal for his country coming in a 2-1 Uefa Nations League loss to Bosnia-Herzegovina in September.

Meanwhile, Corry Evans and Gareth McAuley are both doubts for this week's games with hamstring injuries. Evans picked up a hamstring injury playing for Blackburn against Sheffield Wednesday at the weekend and did not train with Northern Ireland this morning.

Similarly, McAuley arrived at the international camp with the issue.

Northern Ireland only's other concern ahead of the double-header is a thigh strain for Oxford United winger Gavin Whyte.

"Gareth had it before he arrived, we were well aware of it," explained boss Michael O'Neill. "We were in contact with Rangers but the fact he's here and doing everything to be involved is a real positive.

"Corry's very much the same - just a tightness that he picked up at the weekend. We'll make a decision on both players, if not later today, certainly in the morning."

Grigg had been recalled to Michael O'Neill's squad after also missing the last three games of last year through injury.

His absence leaves O'Neill with Kyle Lafferty, Liam Boyce, Josh Magennis, Conor Washington and the inexperienced Paul Smyth as options in attack.

Northern Ireland open their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign against Estonia before playing Belarus on Sunday, with both matches at Windsor Park.

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