Having lost to them three times the season before, Sunderland’s victory over Millwall 18 years ago today tasted sweet to say the least. Whilst on the face of it a narrow 1-0 win was hardly anything to rave about it brought revenge for a league double plus a bitterly disappointing FA Cup semi-final, and there was a cherry on the cake for both the management and the fans too.
For Black Cats boss Mick McCarthy, who had been in charge of the Lions a decade earlier, it was the clean sheet that perhaps gave him the most pleasure whereas the supporters, whipped up by the continued gamesmanship that had continued on from the previous campaign, took great delight in the source of the winning goal – a spectacular miscue from Millwall’s much disliked worky ticket Kevin Muscat.
The own goal couldn’t have been better timed either, coming just as those in the stands were starting to become a little anxious. The previous game at the Stadium of Light had seen the Lads having to settle for a frustrating goalless draw despite playing well against Derby County, and fears of a repeat result were starting to grow when Muscat weighed in. It gave Sunderland all three points and pushed them back into the play-off spots, yet the side could very well have come away with nothing were it not for some strong defending and even better goalkeeping.
Between the sticks and producing a wonderful performance was Mart Poom, who had come into the game having only conceded twice in his last seven outings – a run that included a substitute appearance against Chester City in the League Cup plus a superb penalty save against Leeds United. There was more fine work from the Estonian here too, the highlight of which was a brilliant close range stop to deny Mark McCammon what looked like a certain goal.
In pushing the first half effort onto the bar Poom displayed the excellent reflexes he worked so hard to hone. Despite being a driven professional and excellent trainer however, his time on Wearside was hampered sadly by injury and this proved to be his last home game for the club. It was a memorable way to sign off though before an ongoing knee problem saw him dropping out of the side.
Taking his place was Thomas Myhre, another international goalkeeper but who had been told by McCarthy he could leave such was the form of his rival for the number one spot. The situation soon changed though in light of Poom’s latest worries and the Scandinavian quickly established himself, proving the depth of quality that was at the club at the time. The promotion chasing squad was a healthy mix of wise heads and hungry youngsters, and after beating his former club McCarthy keen to praise one of his recently unearthed prospects.
Making only his fourth appearance since moving from semi-professional outfit Dumbarton, Neill Collins was paired alongside Steve Caldwell in the centre of defence and the manager was impressed with the partnership and aggression both were showing in the absence of suspended skipper Gary Breen. Also featuring were Dean Whitehead and his replacement from the bench Liam Lawrence, two more lower league discoveries that brought energy to the team – Lawrence being the one that put a lovely ball across the box for Muscat to slice past his own keeper Graham Stack.
Another recent, albeit more familiar arrival was Michael Bridges; this was his first home run out since coming back to Wearside and once the deadlock was broken he went close to marking his return with a clever shot from the edge of the box that went just wide. Player-manager Dennis Wise was then denied a late leveller by Poom but that was as close as the visitors got – the Lads sealing one of many hard fought wins that would eventually see them winning the 2004-05 Championship title, and one that on this day meant they’d broken their Millwall hex.
Saturday 16 October 2004
Sunderland 1 (Muscat OG 72)
Sunderland: Poom; Lynch, Collins, Caldwell, McCartney; Whitehead (Lawrence 58), Robinson, Whitley, Arca; Brown, Johnson (Bridges 65). Unused: Myhre, Carter, Stewart.
Stadium of Light, attendance 23,839