Is there a way back for struggling Sunderland striker Will Grigg?

That Will Grigg was selected in the first place came as something of a surprise.

A week earlier, he had been handed a chance against Mansfield Town and Phil Parkinson's press conference left you thinking there wouldn't be another in the near future.

It had been a wretched afternoon for Sunderland, dumped out of the FA Cup first round for the second season in a row.

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They had lost to a side without a competitive win in the campaign to date. More alarmingly, the visitors had arguably played the better football for large parts of the contest.

Phil Parkinson faces a big selection call up front this weekend

But reflecting on the game, Parkinson seemed to lay the blame almost entirely at the door of his strike partnership of Grigg and Danny Graham.

He conceded that his side could have played with more tempo and aggression in possession.

He insisted, though, that 38 crosses was a tally that should have led to more.

"I think over the course over the game we've put in enough quality deliveries into the box to win the game," Parkinson said.

"OK, our decision making wasn't always great, and the quality wasn't always great, but there was enough over 90 minutes to win.

"Our desire and our movement to get across people in the box and make something of those movements wasn't good enough to get through.

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"The one cross they've put in, the lad has got in with real desire to head in.

"I've just sat there now and gone through all the deliveries we've put in, and there was enough quality going into the box today to win."

It felt like a pointed set of remarks, delivered to a striker (and his team-mate) whose reputation was built upon penalty-box poaching.

A fair retort, without a doubt, would be to point out that whipped crosses were rarely the source of those goals for Grigg.

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38 crosses did little to shift the perception that nearly two years since his arrival, the service to Grigg from Sunderland does little to help him recapture his form.

Parkinson, though, sprung a surprise. The Northern Irishman was handed another chance, this time alongside Charlie Wyke.

Of course, there was nothing wrong with the play from Lynden Gooch, that inexplicably did not produce a goal against MK Dons.

Gooch had done superbly to steal possession from Dean Lewington, and the low cross to the six-yard box was inch perfect.

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It was harder to miss than score.

Grigg spent a moment in the MK Dons net afterwards, trying to make sense of what happened.

When his number was up on the fourth official's board just a few minutes later, he jogged off with little complaint.

Parkinson's post-match remarks again raised eyebrows. Again, he laid the blame for defeat at the door of poor finishing.

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This is not unusual, and it's at the heart of the debate raging around Sunderland and their promotion prospects this season. Fans have been left frustrated and concerned about a lack of variety in the team's attacking play. Parkinson's response is that chance creation and their expected goals statistics suggest this is not the problem.

This contrast played out neatly in his post-match press conference, when he was asked if the fan sentiment that this performance was unacceptable was fair.

It was the finishing, Parkinson said (as well as the defending in the build up to the crucial penalty), that was unacceptable.

That may have been true at one stage early in the campaign, but after a game in which MK Dons had played by far the most expansive football, it felt a stretch.

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What was interesting this time, though, was that beneath the surface of Parkinson's comments, there was some room for hope for Grigg.

Critical of the finishing he may have been, but when asked what comes next for the 29-year-old, the response was interesting.

“Firstly, he worked his socks off for the team,” Parkinson said.

"He needed the game [against Mansfield] last week.

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"There had been a couple of times where he was going to play but had just picked up little niggles. Physically I thought he was better today than he was last week.

"He knows it was a bad miss. He is the first one to hold his hand up in the dressing room because he knows those chances have to be made to count.”

Given the high demands Parkinson places on pressing from his forward players, this was a response that suggested the door may not yet be closed on Grigg.

That high-profile miss was significant, but so too was the moment early on when Grigg himself did superbly to win possession on the byline, his low cross inches away from being turned in by Gooch.

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It leaves Parkinson with a big, and revealing, decision to make on Saturday.

Sunderland are in need of a result to allay some growing concerns about their campaign and after a regression in performances, Parkinson himself is in need of a lift.

Grigg's Sunderland career so far has, unquestionably, been marked by some key chances missed.

Yet he has also been forced to deal with the publicity that came with his bizarre arrival, the club chairman by his own admission paying well over the odds.

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Grigg was forced to relive all of that again, when the details were laid bare in a worldwide documentary.

His relationship with Parkinson's style has been uneasy (and his shots-per-game record underlines the team's failure to find him often enough), and regularly it has felt like opportunities have been scarce for him when plentiful for others.

It's certainly telling that he has had fewer league minutes than all of Parkinson's other forward options.

Parkinson began the season looking to get another striker in his preferred system.

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After some encouraging signs, it was to the disappointment of many that this rarely included Grigg.

As the pressure rises, it feels as if 2pm on Saturday is going to be an instructive moment.