MILLWALL had to come from behind to draw with struggling Sunderland at The Den on Saturday.
Sunderland went ahead in the 31st minute when Aiden McGeady played a corner short to Bryan Oviedo, and he was given too much room to run infield and fire left-footed past Jordan Archer at the near post.
Millwall were poor before the break and it was no surprise to see them with far more urgency in the second half.
They pinned Sunderland in their own half, and got their reward with just over 20 minutes left when Shaun Hutchinson scrambled in an equaliser.
Sunderland were proving obdurate opponents, though, hanging on for a precious point, though it does little to help their survival hopes.
Millwall wanted two more and seemed far the more likely side to get it. Tim Cahill was introduced with three minutes left to play behind an attacking trio of Steve Morison, Lee Gregory and another substitute, Fred Onyedinma.
But the hosts were frustrated by a side that had they shown the same level of fight this season probably wouldn’t be down where they are.
Sunderland had made six changes to their line-up from last weekend, in contrast to Lions boss Neil Harris who named the same team for the fourth successive game.
Sunderland didn’t actually seem to be approaching the game as if they were desperately fighting to stay in the division. They sat back initially and allowed Shaun Williams time on the ball in midfield, but if they were expecting a Den onslaught they didn’t get it and that emboldened them to attack.
Right wing-back Adam Matthews flashed a low cross into the box that Ashley Fletcher, standing only a couple of yards out, just had to get a touch on to score against Millwall again as he had done for Barnsley in the 2016 League One play-off final.
Sunderland have the worst defence in the division but were barely stretched before the break, Jake Cooper’s long diagonals towards Morison not paying off and not really worrying the visitors.
Chris Coleman changed his goalkeepers after Lee Camp conceded three Middlesbrough last weekend, but the only real thing Jason Steele had to do in the first half was palm away an effort from the edge of the box from Shaun Williams.
That was one of the few good attacking moves Millwall had put together as they unusually struggled to create chances in the box.
There was an all-round sloppiness to their play and it didn’t come as a shock when they went behind. They needlessly conceded a corner, and then carelessly failed to have adequate cover as Oviedo saw a chance to drift towards the box and fire home. It was a gift of a goal.
Millwall couldn’t build up any kind of head of steam, attacking in fits and starts, with Gregory often isolated against three centre-backs. Jed Wallace and Ben Marshall were seeing very little of the ball in attacking wide areas, and instead it was Sunderland’s wing-backs doing the damage. Marshall got one rare chance to cross but Morison headed wide.
The home side seemed to realise who they were playing against after the break, a side low on confidence that they should have been much more severely testing,
Millwall were playing almost entirely in Sunderland’s half since the break and Gregory forced Steele into two saves, though ones the goalkeeper would have been expected to make.
Harris’ side were giving Coleman something to think about, his defence under pressure with Lamine Kone intervening as Wallace tried to steal in behind. Coleman brought on Joel Asoro for Callum McManaman, and that was the moment Lions fans started chanting Cahill’s name, the Australian having scored eight goals against the Black Cats in his career.
But he wasn’t needed to drag the Lions level. It appeared Morison was about to do that when he found himself alone at the back post to connect with Wallace’s cross, only for the ball to come off Steele’s legs for a corner. And when it came in from Williams, Hutchinson scuffed home his first goal since August.
Millwall were taking risks for the win now, leaving Hutchinson one-on-one with Asoro at the back as Gregory read Morison’s flick-on but just failed to get a touch to the ball as Steele came off his line.
With just under 10 minutes left Harris sent on Onyedinma for Marshall and the attacker’s first touch was a brilliant back-heel to James Meredith, before the ball was worked to Wallace but he shot over.
It had been a big improvement in the second half, not enough for three points, though the unbeaten league run stretches to nine games.
Image: Millwall FC