MILLWALL were denied their first win in four games as Sunderland came from behind to draw a game characterised by goalkeeping errors.
Former Lions striker Lewis Grabban gave the hosts the lead in the 12th minute when he took advantage of a mix-up between Tom Elliott, who failed to head clear, and Jordan Archer, who mis-cued his punch, to poke the ball home.
If some allowance could be made for Archer, that couldn’t be said of Robbin Ruiter at the other end. Sunderland had just lost Jonny Williams to injury and from the resulting free-kick George Saville aimed for the near post. The shot was tame by Ruiter let the ball trickle through his legs.
Four minutes later, from two yards infield from where he scored, Saville got another chance. This time Ruiter got across to the free-kick but, unbelievably, palmed the ball into his net.
Sunderland lost a second player to injury before the break, Callum McManaman coming on for Duncan Watmore. Both players had claims for penalties, but both were waved away by the referee.
Incredibly, it was another goalkeeper mistake, just a minute into the second half, that directly allowed Sunderland to get their equaliser. Adam Matthews’ cross from the right was mis-directed, until Archer palmed it in when it should have been a routine catch.
Emboldened and finally with the backing of their fans, Sunderland ran at the visitors before creating space out wide and Grabban had the ball in the net a fraction after the referee had blown for a Millwall free-kick. There were big defensive holes at both ends.
Conor McLaughlin desperately filled one when he flicked the ball away with Grabban set to pounce. Millwall then had a chance on the counter-attack but, one-on-one, Elliott ran into Marc Wilson and injured himself.
Steve Morison came on and immediately his strike partner Lee Gregory had a chance, but Ruiter someway made up for his earlier mistakes by reacting quickly to make the save.
Gregory was taken off the next time the ball went out. Fred Onyedinma came on to play on the right wing, with Aiden O’Brien just off Morison.
But it was Grabban who was so close to getting a touch on Aiden McGeady’s cross with five minutes left and had he managed it would have found an open goal.
The home fans hadn’t seen a win here in 338 days, and the news that Chris Coleman would leave his job as Wales manager to take over their side wasn’t really received over enthusiastically by those on Wearside.
Millwall’s last win away in a regular league game wasn’t quite so long ago, but Shaun Hutchinson made the pertinent point this week the lack of victories away from The Den was increasing the pressure to get them at home.
When you saw Sunderland’s team you wondered how they were bottom of the table and it was also their bench – with a former Premier League winner, FA Cup winner and England international – that really emphasised how much they have underachieved. Ruiter’s first-half performance then only summed up how low they are on confidence.
Millwall boss Neil Harris sprung something of a surprise by picking Elliott over Morison meaning the Lions’ vice-captain and captain were on the bench, Hutchinson wearing the armband on the pitch. Hutchinson found Elliott with a long ball early on that Ryan Tunnicliffe followed up to fire wide via a deflection.
Then an eight-minute spell in the first half when Millwall fell behind before coming back to go in front was illustrative of Sunderland’s problems this season, and also of the quality Saville has given the Lions, even if he was given two helping hands. Sunderland have a proper goal-scorer in Grabban – the opener his eighth in 13 league games this season – but they had the joint-worst defence before today, Ruiter committing two terrible errors to gift Millwall the equaliser and then the lead.
There were boos from the home fans at half-time, but they seemed to be directed at the referee. There had been those two penalty appeals, and Watmore’s was the more convincing after he had tumbled under James Meredith’s challenge. Saville, on a hat-trick, fired wide before McGeady put his hands to his head after shooting wide from 10 yards in space in the box.
Millwall had been vulnerable from wide areas all game and it was from there that they were punished again, though Matthews’ cross should never have gone in.
A feature of the game was the willingness of a number of Sunderland’s players to run with the ball, and Millwall were struggling to deal with them. McManaman in particular was dangerous, while another substitute, George Honeyman, skipped away from a challenge before almost finding Grabban.
It was there to be won for either side. Sunderland looked the more likely to do it, with Grabban coming close, but instead they set an English record for most consecutive games without a win at home, 20.
Millwall's winless away run goes on, too, though they will be relatively relieved to have escaped with a point here.
Image: Millwall FC