Behind Enemy Lines: Sunderland

SOMETHING may have to give this weekend as Millwall, without an away win this season, face Sunderland, without a victory at home in almost a year.

The Lions are looking to bounce back after their 1-0 defeat to Burton before the international break. The Black Cats lost 1-0 to Middlesbrough in their last game.

Robbie Stockdale is set to be in charge of Sunderland at the weekend, with no signs yet of a new manager – an 11th this decade – being appointed.

Lucas Ball spoke to Sunderland fan Pete Sixsmith ahead of this weekend.

Why do you support Sunderland?

I was born and brought up in Leeds in the 1950s and I had very little interest in football. Rugby League, the ultimate working-class sport, was my game and I went to Headingley every other Saturday to watch Leeds RLFC (now Leeds Rhinos) with my father and his father. Rugby League was a winter game then and there were three teams in the city – Leeds, Hunslet (who my maternal grandfather supported along with Leeds United) and Bramley.

I was heartbroken when we moved to County Durham in 1960 and I switched to football, watching Shildon, dabbling with Darlington and eventually settling on Sunderland because my (still) good friend Colin Randall supported them.

I started going in 1962 and had my first season ticket in 1964. It cost £6.6s.0d and I have been hooked ever since. I'm a firm believer that you should support your local team and have little time for those Liverpool/Manchester United/ Chelsea "supporters" who were born and brought up in County Durham. In fact, I believe that anyone from County Durham who follows Newcastle United or Middlesbrough is a traitor to the county and should be deported across the Tyne or Tees….

What's your favourite season supporting the club?

The best season I have had following Sunderland was the second half of 1972-73. We were rubbish in the '72 part and the nation's sweethearts in '73. The greatest game I have ever seen was the FA Cup fifth-round replay against Manchester City who were running for the double that year under Malcolm Allison and had Colin Bell, Francis Lee and Rodney Marsh in their line-up. Roker Park had 51,782 squeezed in and we scored two sensational goals in the first half through Billy Hughes and Vic Halom on our way to a 3-1 win and the FA Cup in May when we beat Leeds United 1-0. My Uncle Ken, a United fan, refused to speak to me for months.

I also enjoyed the season we spent in the old Third Division in 1988-89 but have no wish for a repeat….

Is there any hope among fans that this season can improve after an awful start?

There is always hope. We have to improve and have some decent players who need to be organised. But we have to win our home games and, not having done so at The Stadium of Light since last December, the longer that run goes on, the harder it gets. Maybe this Saturday?

Why has there been such a high turnover of managers in the last few years?

We have made some poor appointments and some which just did not work out. Martin O'Neill was seen as a perfect pick but he had been out of club management for far too long. He is well suited to international management as is Roy Keane.

Paolo Di Canio was an appalling choice and I think he created a mood where the players thought that they could control things.

The best manager we have had under the current owner was Sam Allardyce but he decamped for the England job. I don't think he would have stayed anyway, as there was clearly no serious money available.

However, he wouldn't have wasted it as his successor, David Moyes, did. I think you may well enjoy him as West Ham manager.

Which of Sunderland's players will Millwall need to be wary of?

We have an excellent and experienced striker in Lewis Grabban and a tricky winger in Aiden McGeady. They can make us tick. Unfortunately, the midfield and defence seem to find it difficult to do the basics which negate the work of the two aforementioned.

Patrick McNair might just be getting himself fit – he could be a big player for us.

Likewise, which Lions players will the Black Cats have to keep an eye on?

Having spent 10 years in the top league, I have lost contact with the Championship so I can only go on what I have read.

George Saville seems a decent turn and I remember Shane Ferguson from his days at Newcastle.

I saw Lee Gregory play a couple of times for Halifax Town and he seemed decent. Steve Morison is a threat. We don't defend corners and crosses very well so he and Gregory will be well prepared for that.

What's your predicted line-up and formation?

I would imagine the line-up will be something like this:


Ruiter; Matthews, O'Shea, Wilson, Oviedo; Ndong, Cattermole, Williams, McGeady; McNair; Grabban.

Finally, what's your score prediction?

We need to win this one (I've said that a few times this season), so I will go for a 2-0 home win – but not with any great optimism.

Graphic: @ShedCreative