Belfast Telegraph

MK Dons hero Will Grigg out to play pivotal role in Michael O’Neill’s plans

By Steven Beacom

When Manchester United lose it is a big story. When Manchester United lose heavily it is a monumental story. When Manchester United lose 4-0 to a team two divisions below them the tale becomes the size of the Grand Canyon.

Recriminations, criticism and analysis follow about what is going on at one of the most iconic sporting institutions on the planet.

But what about the team who battered the Old Trafford outfit? Let's not forget about them.

MK Dons have only been in existence for 10 years – without doubt Tuesday's staggering victory in the Capital One Cup, watched by a record 27,000 fans inside Stadium:MK, was the best night yet in the League One club's short history.

And for their footballers it was the greatest evening of their careers so far... certainly that's how Northern Ireland pair Will Grigg and Ben Reeves saw it.

Grigg and Reeves were sensational against Louis van Gaal's team. The former scored twice and was a constant threat while Reeves was the creator supreme, causing havoc virtually every time he had the ball in the opposition half.

They may not have been born and bred here, but with both qualifying for our wee country due to Ulster grandparents, and set to play a part in the forthcoming Euro 2016 qualifying campaign, we should rejoice in their performances as much as concern ourselves with the downright awful display from Jonny Evans at the back for United.

As you would imagine for Grigg, recently farmed out on loan to MK Dons by Championship outfit Brentford, his brilliant brace was the stuff of dreams – the second cheekily chested home from an inviting Reeves cross brought him particular pleasure.

Grigg said: "I have a lot of family who are United fans so it was just a brilliant occasion to be part of. There are millions of children and adults who dream about scoring against United and I was one of those as a kid, and it's a great feeling to have achieved that."

Grigg could have bagged a hat-trick but with fatigue setting in was replaced late on by Benik Afobe, who went on to score two goals himself.

Growing up in Solihull in the midlands as an Aston Villa fan, Grigg signed youth forms with deadly rivals Birmingham City only to break his leg when he was 15.

The serious injury hindered his progress and he was released in 2007 though never gave up on his dream of becoming a professional footballer.

He joined non-league Stratford Town the same year and 12 months later moved to Walsall where gradually he gained a reputation as a reliable goalscorer, which earned him regular call-ups to the Northern Ireland under-19 and under-21 squads.

Still at Walsall, he made his full international debut in 2012, coming off the bench as Northern Ireland were hammered 6-0 in Holland.

Grigg has now played five times at the highest level, and while he wants to establish himself under current Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill, there have been occasions when he and others have been left disappointed that he has not been given an opportunity to shine.

Take last year's 1-0 friendly defeat in Turkey for example. By then Grigg had moved to Brentford for £325,000 and expected some game time. Returning home as an unused substitute sparked an angry reaction from his then boss Uwe Rosler.

Rosler, now in charge of Wigan, said: "It was very disappointing. We spoke to the Northern Irish coach and he said he will play.

"Will was probably angry he didn't get a chance in Turkey. He's been away for six or seven games and has played 19 minutes.

"We can't decide whether a national coach picks a player, but if a player is not settled in a new club and has had injury problems and is missing games through international call-ups and is not used, of course he is not settled with us or Northern Ireland either."

Grigg was more diplomatic, insisting that if he continued to score goals at club level he would get his international chance soon enough.

Like a number of other players, the 23-year-old didn't go on the summer tour to South America. Whether O'Neill, who today names his squad for next month's opening qualifier in Hungary, holds that against him in the Euro campaign remains to be seen.

What is clear is that there won't be any Northern Ireland strikers feeling as confident as Grigg right now following his heroics against United.

Reeves, from Dorset, will also be feeling better than ever after his influential display in the victory over Van Gaal's team. The 22-year-old used the ball cleverly and took advantage of United's indecision at the back to carve out chances for his team-mates.

It was a classy outing from the versatile player, who prefers to play in the number 10 role, having moved to MK Dons from Southampton after a few spells out on loan.

Called into the squad for the first time by O'Neill for the friendly with Cyprus in March, the as yet uncapped Reeves is eager to make an impression in the Euro campaign.

Reeves, who has Fermanagh roots, says: "I was ecstatic when I first got the call to join the squad. To get a chance to play international football would be unbelievable. I would feel proud to represent Northern Ireland."

Belfast Telegraph

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