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A tepid 1-1 draw with Millwall seems far from a fitting way to end the Tony Mowbray era at Sunderland; his tenure was largely characterised by the best attacking football we’ve seen in decades, from a dynamic and spirited young team by which even the most cynical fan couldn’t help but get excited. I suppose football is rarely sentimental.
A cold December trip to The Den is far from the most inviting of away trips at the best of times, and the train strikes rearing their head again was obviously bad news for fans travelling from the North East.
Even those of us already based in the capital felt a bit apprehensive after realising there would be trusty London Bridge-South Bermondsey line to keep us away from any encounters with the more… excitable locals.
Nonetheless, we assembled pre-match in London Bridge at The George, which was already buzzing nicely despite our recent on-pitch woes.
A pint of Bermondsey Bitter came to just shy of seven quid; even after eight years living down south, those prices still sting.
We moved on to the semi-official HQ of the London Branch, The Southwark Brewery, and then with an hour to go to kick off we embarked on the potentially treacherous walk to the Den.
To tell the truth, there really wasn’t the same hostility in the air you’d normally expect at Millwall. When we were here back in January it was their largest crowd for several decades, with the Lions right in the midst of the playoff chase.
This time felt far more subdued in comparison, possibly due to a combination of the freezing wind and the home side’s poor season to date.
With smoke billowing in the background like an L.S. Lowry painting, we kicked off attacking the aptly named Cold Blow Lane end.
It feels like match reports for recent Sunderland away games could be more or less copied and pasted; start out promisingly, dominate the ball, create very little, lose control of the game, concede.
If truth be told we were even less convincing than in some of the previous games, with the players seemingly struggling for confidence and the swagger that came so easily just a few months ago.
After a quick half time beer, we came back out to watch a marginally improved second half. Millwall would ultimately rue the one time they failed to double up on Clarke, as the winger was felled just inside the area and converted his penalty well to give us an equaliser we just about deserved.
Any hopes that we’d press on and grab a winner were short-lived as the Lions piled on the pressure. The away end breathed a collective sigh of relief when the linesman’s flag denied Millwall a last-minute winner, which would’ve turned an underwhelming day into a disastrous one.
We snuck into the Queen Victoria pub for a post-match debrief, which is apparently a die-hard Millwall boozer, but none of the locals gave us any bother.
Both sets of fans were probably feeling too deflated after the underwhelming game for any Football Factory nonsense.
To sum up the disappointment of the day, we learned retrospectively that Millwall had been giving away free pies at the end of the game, a kick in the teeth for anyone who’d forked out a fiver for one.
Hopefully, the next away trip to Bristol City (with God knows who as manager) will give us more to cheer about.