Six changes & a new formation
Chris Coleman sprang a slight surprise with his team selection.
Switching to a 5-4-1, the gaffer matched the midfield four of Millwall as Callum McManaman and Aiden McGeady were restored to the starting line-up. Ovie Ejaria came in as a straight swap for the injured Paddy McNair, whilst Ashley Fletcher was asked to lead the line.
The big surprise was the restoration of Jason Steele. Lee Camp hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory since arriving but, instead of offering young Max Styjek his chance, Coleman opted to bring back the man who adorns the number one shirt.
On the whole, though, the changes worked well, as evidenced in our first half performance. McGeady saw a lot of the ball and provided a good outlet down the left. Ejaria played the box-to-box role very effectively, always looking for the ball, finding space well and generally moving us forward.
We don’t know what to do with a lead
Chris Coleman has stressed the importance of having a go and being positive. Yesterday’s performance was another example of when we start the game brightly, we do look half-decent. Problem is, when we have a lead, we seem to regress.
Last week we came out to defend a lead and sat far too deep. Whether it was the fear of losing the advantage, or the tempo with which Millwall started the second half, we did the same at The Den. On both occasions, the opposition scored.
All the good work of playing through Ejaria and McGeady in the first half was lost as we resorted to clearing our lines and playing long balls over the midfield. As a consequence we didn’t manage the game as well as we had in the opening period and handed the impetus to the home side.
In the end, we came away with a point against one of the Championship’s in-form teams, but were equally left wondering what may have been had we started the second half, or even responded to the goal, by repeating our first half performance.
Jason Steele wasn’t too bad!
As I sat in my seat in the East Stand last week I couldn’t help but overhear the debate that was going on behind me regarding our goalkeeper position. The phrase that sent shudders down my spine was “we would be better off playing Steele. At least he’s our keeper and not some guy on loan.”
When Coleman announced his team today, the same shudder went through me.
But, actually, he didn’t play too bad!
In the first half, the defence shielded him well and he had little to do. The only real test came after we scored, where he pulled off a routine save from Shaun Williams’ half-volley.
In the second half, Steele coped well with Millwall’s attacks. In fact, he had just pulled off a great save to deny Steve Morison before Shaun Hutchinson poked home the equaliser. The defence continued to rally round their keeper and Steele played his part to withstand the Millwall attacks as they went in search of a winner.
All in all, maybe the chap behind me last week had a point...
We are running out of games
Before the game I mentioned that you could be forgiven for thinking today could be a point gained. Millwall have been on a great run recently: unbeaten in eight, winning their last three, conceding twice in their last six. Yet the position we are in, we can’t afford to keep drawing games.
At half-time, we were 22nd. Not the greatest position, but we were off the bottom and ahead of Burton and Birmingham. Just. We were two points behind Barnsley and a win away from drawing level with Hull.
At full time, we were back to gazing up at the other 23 teams in the league and four points from safety. That’s two games we have to win where Barnsley and Hull both lose if we are to pull clear of relegation. And that assumes Burton and Birmingham continue to lose too.
In April we play Sheffield Wednesday, Reading and Burton, which gives us a great chance of survival - but only if we get four points from games against Villa, QPR, Preston and Derby.
It’s not looking good.
We have the best fans in the world!
Let me end with a positive: Sunderland have the best fans I’ve ever witnessed. Around 2,000 made the trip to London in the midst of the worst winter we’ve seen for years, to support probably the worst team we’ve had in years.
Yet, I can’t remember a time I didn’t hear the travelling Sunderland fans during this game. As the final whistle went, all I could hear was ‘Sunderland ‘til I die’ booming out around the Den.
There is a lot wrong with our club, and the Stadium of Light may be a hard place to play when you’re losing all the time, but get us on your side and you’ll fly.
During the first half, the sea of red and white encouraged the side on. In response, the lads had a very good first half. When we work in tandem, the supporters and the team, we look a force to be reckoned with.