JACK ROSS is confident Will Grigg’s maiden Sunderland goal will prove the first of many, but admits the deadline-day signing will be relieved to have got “a monkey off his back” in last night’s 4-2 win over Gillingham.

Grigg opened his Black Cats account at the fourth time of asking as Ross’ side climbed to third position in the table and closed to within four points of the automatic-promotion positions, with a game in hand on second-placed Barnsley.

Sunderland scored first-half goals through Lee Cattermole and Tom Flanagan, but defensive lapses meant both strikes were cancelled out as Gillingham headed into the interval level.

However, second-half penalties from Grigg and Aiden McGeady ensured Sunderland would not suffer their third home draw in the space of a week, with the former’s spot-kick leading to especially raucous celebrations.

“Speaking to Will, he’s a balanced guy and he’s also got a lot of self-belief,” said Ross. “I think most goalscorers who score a lot of goals over the course of their career have that in abundance.

“He’s not been fazed one bit and I’ve been pleased because I thought his performances had been good, and I knew he would score goals. It’s just nice for him to get that monkey off his back and get that first goal for the club.

“You saw how much it meant to him, and how delighted the other players were for him as well because he’s integrated himself well into the squad. I’ve no doubt he’ll continue to contribute in terms of goals between now and the end of the season.”

It initially looked as though McGeady was going to take Sunderland’s first penalty, which was awarded for a foul on Luke O’Nien, but the Irish international agreed to pass the ball over to Grigg, who had missed gilt-edged chances against both Blackpool and Accrington Stanley.

McGeady scored from the spot himself 11 minutes later, and while some managers are extremely prescriptive when it comes to dishing out penalty-taking responsibilities, Ross would rather leave the decision to the players on the pitch.

“I’ve never delegated penalty-kick taking responsibilities,” he said. “I do a lot with set-pieces, but that for me has always been one that the players decide on the park.

“Individual performances and how players are playing can affect whether they want to take penalties. Aiden has given the opportunity to Will, but knowing Aiden, he’s only done that believing Will would score.

“And speaking to Will afterwards, he absolutely believed he would score as well. I’m delighted with the way it worked out, and delighted Will showed that strength of character to want to get off the mark, and then do it in that manner.”

Last night’s result went in Sunderland’s favour, with Burton Albion holding Barnsley to a goalless draw and Portsmouth having to come from behind to claim a point against Bristol Rovers.

The Black Cats would have hoped to take more than five points from their run of home games against Blackpool, Accrington and Gillingham, but last night’s victory means they have not lost too much ground in the race for a top-two spot.

Luton Town remain nine points ahead of them at the top of the table – Sunderland continue to have a game in hand – but Ross expects the battle for a place in the Championship to go to the final weekend of the season.

“ I would be surprised if it didn’t go down to the wire,” he said. “I think the teams that are in the top five or six positions are all good sides. I think there’s very little between them, and I think the games have shown that. Not just the games against each other, but how they fare against the other teams in the league too.

“I’d expect it to go to the wire, and I include Luton in that too. I know they’re in a good position at the moment, but they’ve got to keep producing that. They may do, but it’s a tough, tough league to batter out results in.”

The one downside to last night’s game was the injury that forced Chris Maguire off in the opening 18 minutes, although Ross is hoping the forward’s calf injury is not as bad as it initially appeared.

“It was just an impact injury,” he said. “His calf is quite sore, and you can imagine how sore he would have to be to come off because he’s been waiting for the opportunity. I thought tonight he started really well. He’s sore just now, so we’ll assess him. Sometimes these injuries can clear up as quickly as they arrive, we’ll just have to wait and see.”