PHIL PARKINSON has challenged Will Grigg to kick-start his Sunderland career in the absence of Charlie Wyke, but admitted he has a responsibility to help ensure the striker can be seen to his best effect in this evening’s home game with Tranmere Rovers.

With Wyke facing at least a month on the sidelines after suffering significant ankle damage in Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Wycombe Wanderers, Grigg is set to make only his third league start of the season tonight.

The Northern Ireland international was supposed to provide the answer to Sunderland’s goalscoring problems when he made a £4m move from Wigan Athletic in January, but has managed just seven goals in his 37 appearances in a red-and-white shirt.

Despite an occasional airing of his theme tune, his Sunderland career is yet to “catch fire”, but having admired the 28-year-old from afar over the last few seasons, Parkinson remains convinced he can be a huge success at the Stadium of Light.

However, with his side having recorded just one effort on target as they crashed to defeat at Wycombe, the new Black Cats boss admits it is imperative Grigg receives an improved level of service in the final third .

“I’ve looked at Will in training and I think he looks bright,” said Parkinson, who will also be without the suspended Aiden McGeady tonight. “I thought he worked really hard when he came off the bench at the weekend, and he was very unlucky with a cross that was whipped in and he was inches away from connecting with it to score.

“I felt the supporters warmed to his performance. They were right behind him, and my job and the team’s job is to supply him with the chances because, in his career, he’s proved that if you do that, he takes a large percentage of them.

“That’s what we’re going to endeavour to do. He really wants to do well. He’s a good lad, he’s a little bit frustrated in himself, but also I think we can do more to help him as well.”

Grigg’s only two goals this season came in the cup competitions – a crisp Carabao Cup finish at Burnley and a late winner in the Trophy game with Grimsby Town – but with the Black Cats kicking off this evening’s game sitting tenth in the League One table, it is imperative he starts producing the goods in the league.

When he last played a full season in League One, in 2017-18, he scored 19 goals to help fire Wigan to promotion, and at the time, Parkinson claims it was easy to see why he was regarded as one of the most prolific marksmen operating in the third tier.

“When Sunderland signed him last season, I think everybody in the division thought, ‘Wow, what a good signing’,” he said. “He’s had a good career. I’ve managed teams against him before and know what a threat he is.

“His movement is terrific, especially inside the box, and even in training, you can see his calmness when he gets chances is excellent. All strikers have to be brave enough to get in there. You might miss a few, but if you keep getting in there, you might toe one in, and if you do that in the 90th minute to win a game of football, you’re a hero. That’s the life of a striker.”

Parkinson’s biggest selection call at Wycombe saw him promote Lee Burge to the starting line-up ahead of Jon McLaughlin, despite having previously managed the latter during his time at Bradford City.

Burge has impressed in the cup competitions this season, and with McLaughlin having been at fault for two or three of the league goals that were conceded towards the end of Jack Ross’ reign, Sunderland’s current manager clearly felt it was time for a change. Not, however, that he necessarily regards Burge as his newly-established number one just yet.

“I thought Lee did very well (at Wycombe),” said Parkinson. “I looked at the games prior to coming in and Lee had done very well while Jon had dipped below what he is capable of. We’ve got good competition in that position, but to say Lee is number one at this stage is too early.

“There’s just good competition between the two of them. Wherever I’ve been throughout my career, it’s good to have two good keepers pushing each other and getting better standards out of each other. I’m sure Jon and Lee will do that.”

McLaughlin was understandably disappointed with his demotion to the substitutes’ bench, but Parkinson has been pleased with the Scotland international’s reaction in the last couple of days.

“I worked with Jon at Bradford and he's had a good period in his career of late,” he said. “He's played well and played some international football as well. He's a good goalkeeper, but not only that, he's a good professional, and he took the decision the right way.

“I think that's important for any player. It's okay being a good squad member when you're in the team and everything's going well. But when you get left out it's about conducting yourself in the right way and Jon certainly did that, so credit to him.”

Having lost at Lincoln in Ross’ final game in charge, Sunderland have suffered back-to-back league defeats for only the second time since they were relegated from the League One. The other occasion came at the end of last season, when the losses at Fleetwood Town and Southend United were at least partially attributable to the fact that the Black Cats already had half-an-eye on the play-offs, but Parkinson remains confident morale has not been too badly damaged by the events of the last couple of weeks.

“I haven't really sensed that,” he said. “I've sensed a determination among the group. They are really desperate to do well, but I think there's a balance to be struck because we've got to play with a calmness and a clear understanding of what we need to do each game.”

Sunderland (probable, 4-2-3-1): Burge; C McLaughlin, Willis, Lynch, Hume; Leadbitter, Power; Gooch, O’Nien, Maguire; Grigg.