Finally, after three weeks of waiting, two weeks of mad Qatar World Cup action, and one bizarre trip to Dubai, the Lads’ Championship ride got back up and running on Saturday. It’s worth a look back at a game very much of two halves.
It’s important not to forget that, before the Championship season paused, Sunderland were just about moving into some sort of form. Despite a lacklustre defeat to Cardiff, victories to Huddersfield and Birmingham were both impressive in their own right, and the club’s injury list was improving.
Pre-match, we were left with many unanswered questions about how the Black Cats would react, after a three-week break that arguably came at the wrong time.
So, as Saturday finally came into sight, there was an air of cautious excitement within the Sunderland ranks. For all the World Cup action has been exciting, controversial, and at times, that bit ridiculous, it’s nice to have Mowbray’s troopers back in action.
Yet, at half time, many fans would have wondered about the negative impact that the break had looked like it had within a rather rusty first-half showing. For large parts of the opening 45, we were second-best to a Millwall side asserting their physical presence upon the contest: the Black Cats seemed to take their time in opposing their pressing system upon the game.
A massive let-off came just before the interval, as Zian Flemming somehow rolled a golden opportunity wide of the left post, after a stray pass from Anthony Patterson had the Black Cats in real trouble.
However, it was a half-time team talk that paid dividends, and then we gave a second-half showing that blew their opposition away in the process.
Millwall’s attacking threat was rather nullified as we found inroads from the wide areas – Amad Diallo and Jack Clarke both seemingly exploiting their full-backs, and causing real issues for their defence.
In doing so, we created two well-worked goals to put us into the driving seat, whilst a route-one ball from Anthony Patterson to Ellis Simms added some gloss onto a performance that was an overall positive one.
As important as this win was to start the engine for this Sunderland ride in the Championship, it also shows that the Black Cats can win on home soil. It was only our third win at the Stadium of Light of the season, but an ultimately convincing one against a side that began the day in the play-off places.
Millwall weren’t a side lacking in confidence. Before the break, Gary Rowett’s side lost only two of their last 11 matches, enabling their stride toward the league’s top six. This makes this Sunderland win even more encouraging.
For our confidence, this was massive. But it also gives the Black Cats with a head-start of match minutes over next Monday’s opponents, West Brom.
We now have only one defeat in our last five, Amad Diallo has four goals within his last six matches, whilst Ellis Simms has two in two, and Alex Pritchard seems back to himself in forward areas.
The juices are back flowing within Sunderland’s season: the return to action was one that was filled with positives and stands us in good stead ahead of a hectic Christmas and New Year period.