Northern Ireland boss Michael O’Neill today revealed Will Grigg will face Malta and hailed the Walsall striker’s “excellent” season so far.
The hitman is set for his second senior cap tonight after his red-hot form for the Saddlers. He has scored 10 goals this season and will play in a new-look frontline with record goalscorer David Healy and Kyle Lafferty left out. O’Neill gave Grigg his debut in last June’s 6-0 defeat to Holland and praised the 21-year-old after his career-best season.
He said: “Will Grigg is having an excellent season for Walsall. He’s scored a lot of goals in recent months and there are a lot of options there for us.
“We have a number of players. Niall (McGinn) is scoring freely and Billy McKay is scoring a lot of goals in the SPL.
“We have one or two bumps and bruises and a bit of stiffness and soreness but we have 20 here, 18 outfield players and two goalkeepers, and we expect everyone to take part.”
And O’Neill is keen to give Grigg a chance in the friendly, ahead of Healy, after the Bury striker’s lack of game time for his club.
He said: “We have a number of young players in the squad. It’s important for them to show what they can do.
“After the Azerbaijan game (a 1-1 draw in November), David didn’t play for three or four weeks at his club and that always caused a difficulty.
“I just felt it was better at for him to focus on his fitness. He needs to give himself a six or seven-week period to be in the best possible shape for the Russia and Israel games.”
Grigg will jet back for Saturday’s trip to Doncaster as the Saddlers look to close the four-point gap to the League One play-offs and O’Neill realises international breaks causes headaches for managers.
“These games are always difficult in terms of the organisation and they are difficult for club managers as well,” he added.
Meanwhile, Walsall reserves lost 2-0 to Bury in the Central League Regional Division yesterday.