Spirited Millwall unable to give Joe Edwards his first win at the Den
Millwall (1) 1 Nisbet 44
Sunderland (0) 1 Clarke (pen 78)
Former Chelsea youth boss Joe Edwards is still searching for his first home win as Millwall head coach after his side were eventually worn down by Sunderland in a 1-1 draw at the Den on Saturday.
Although the new boss has arrived with the promise of changing the team’s style of play, focusing on retaining possession in the manner of some of the Championship’s leading lights, this performance relied more on hard work and determination as Tony Mowbray’s Black Cats tried to keep the ball at all cost.
Given Edwards started his Millwall tenure with a 4-0 win at Sheffield Wednesday that was so straightforward it almost defied belief, the past week has been a nightmare by comparison. His first game in front of the Den ended in a 3-0 defeat to struggling Coventry. That was followed up by a 3-1 loss at Ipswich in midweek that left the new head coach questioning his player’s application.
Despite Edwards’ attempts to alter the philosophy of his team, it was Sunderland who dominated the ball in this encounter as Millwall took their time to adjust to a change in formation from the defeat at Ipswich.
The home side were still resolute though. Utility man Ryan Leonard held his own at right back, limiting Jack Clarke, the Championship’s third-highest scorer at the start of play, to little more than the occasional flash of low-socked inspiration until he escaped his clutches in the final 15 minutes to win and score a penalty.
Sunderland had looked set for a frustrating afternoon up until that point. Chelsea loanee Mason Burstow was fortunate to receive just a yellow card for a lunge directed at Leonard in the first hald, and Clarke was perhaps also lucky to remain on the field after two mistimed challenges of his own on Leonard.
Millwall took encouragement from their opponents’ inability to turn their possession into something more meaningful and decided to take hold of proceedings. Balls started being loaded into the Sunderland box and the game became frenetic. Leonard, who has just five goals throughout a five-year Millwall career, let fly from all of thirty yards and saw his effort whistle just wide.
Brooke Norton-Cuffy has been one of the early beneficiaries of the change of the manager, with the 19-year-old borrowed from Arsenal starting all four games under Edwards and even notching his first-ever Championship goal in the win at Hillsborough. He added an element of chaos to Millwall’s uncertain attempts to keep a hold of the ball against Sunderland, and after first crossing straight into the hands of goalkeeper Anthony Patterson from the right and then overhitting one in search of Zian Flemming, he got his delivery just right as the half-time whistle approached.
The Sunderland defence became unsettled by Millwall becoming increasingly direct, Daniel Ballard came charging out of position to clatter the unfortunate Leonard once more, leaving space to work the ball wide to Norton-Cuffy in ample space to provide the cross for Kevin Nisbet to find the net.
With Millwall now in front, Edwards could allow his side to continue to sit back and let the visitors create their own problems. Tony Mowbray made a triple substitution before the hour mark but that only seemed to confuse matters further, with Patrick Roberts for some reason opting to try and pick out fellow replacement Alex Pritchard with the goal at his mercy after sitting down a defender.
Their attention fully focused on constructing the perfect goal, Sunderland took their eye off Norton-Cuffy once more. This time the teenager capitalised on Luke O’Nien and Niall Huggins getting in each other’s way to stream down the right flank and pick out Flemming. The out-of-form Dutchman could not sort his feet out quickly enough to trouble Patterson in goal.
Gaps did eventually appear in the Millwall backline, with Clarke escaping Billy Mitchell’s clutches to cross for Bradley Dack to turn wide before Ballard inexplicably blasted over when no more than six yards out.
It was inevitably Clarke, who avoided a second yellow again after bringing down Norton-Cuffy, that forced the equalising goal, finally accelerating beyond Leonard before tempting the 31-year-old into making a challenge he was never going to win. The former Tottenham winger got back to his feet to slot a confident penalty beyond Bart Bialkowski.
From there the game lost all shape as Millwall were no longer satisfied sitting and watching Sunderland have the ball. Substitute Tom Bradshaw came closest to thriving in the chaos, shooting straight at Patterson when one-on-one before seeing a late winner ruled out for offside.
In the end it was a point that neither allowed Edwards to get off the mark nor did it improve a home record that currently stands at just two wins this season. However, it did move Millwall a point further clear of the relegation zone and, given the week they have had, it may prove an important one.
Millwall (4-4-2): Bialkowski – Leonard, Harding, Cooper, Wallace – Norton-Cuffy, Mitchell, Saville, Honeyman (Longman 63) – Flemming (Watmore 73), Nisbet (Bradshaw 63). Subs not used: Sarkic, McNamara, Hutchinson, Campbell, Emakhu, Esse
Sunderland (4-3-3): Patterson – Hume, O’Nien, Ballard, Huggins – Neil (Mayenda 73), Ekwah, Aouchiche (Pritchard 56)– Ba (Roberts 56), Burstow (Dack 56), Clarke. Subs not used: Bishop, Bellingham, Semedo, Taylor, Triantis