MillwallSport

Alex Grace’s four takeaways from Millwall’s 1-1 draw at home to Sunderland

Millwall were forced to settle for a point on Saturday after Jack Clarke scored a late penalty to earn Sunderland a share of the spoils from a feisty contest in SE16. 

There was controversy as to whether the Black Cats’ winger should have been on the pitch to earn and score the penalty after he was not given a second yellow card for a pull-back on Brooke Norton-Cuffy. 

Here are Alex Grace’s four takeaways from a feisty contest in SE16.

GOOD RESPONSE SHOWN 

It’s safe to say that Millwall’s two games before this contest were not ones that they will remember fondly. Coventry punished the Lions’ fragile backline with lethal counter-attacks while Ipswich demonstrated just why they are flying high alongside Leicester at the top of the table in the automatic promotion places. 

This was a game that was always going to be cagey. Sunderland came into the contest having taken just 13 points from their previous 33 available. While the Lions had lost their last two in disappointing fashion against Coventry and Ipswich. Those games were lost due to Millwall’s poor defending. However, it looked as if lessons had been learnt from those two games here.

George Saville and Billy Mitchell playing in those holding midfield roles made a big difference and helped protect a defence that has looked a little fragile in this season. 

Joe Edwards said he will not come away from the style he wants to play at Millwall and he has stuck to that mantra. Wes Harding and Jake Cooper both carried the ball out of defence and into the attacking reaches of the pitch. The difference this time was both Saville and Mitchell slotted into centre-back roles to cover their teammates. It shows that Millwall are, of course, a work in progress, but also, that they are learning from the mistakes that cost them in previous games. 

TWO IN TWO FOR NISBET 

It’s been a frustrating start for Kevin Nisbet at the Den. He has twice been out with injuries and made his first start in seven games against Sunderland on Saturday. However his return is not too bad considering all of those factors. He has found the net four times in 16 appearances in the league. 

What will be a good sign for Joe Edwards will be the fact that the Scotland international has now scored in back-to-back games. Fellow striker Tom Bradshaw has had a slower start to the campaign with just one goal so far, putting a bit more pressure on Nisbet to start finding the net.

Both finishes in the last two games have been technically very good. The goal against Ipswich was a fine finish from a difficult starting point and the goal against Tony Mowbray’s side was a superb finish on the volley. It’s clear that Nisbet is a natural-born finisher and that is something that Millwall must utilise going forward. While Bradshaw will give you everything in a game and run his heart out for the cause, Nisbet appears to be a stronger and more natural finisher, if the Lions are to move away from their precarious position towards the bottom of the Championship table, they are going to need to take their chances and they have a better chance of that with Nisbet on the pitch. 

LEONARD AND LONGMAN’S FINE DISPLAYS 

Ryan Longman was on the receiving end of some heavy criticism for his performance at Ipswich but he responded in the best possible way. 

Starting on the bench gave him and the ammunition he needed to come on and cause problems to the Sunderland defence. Millwall fans like to see a lot of blood and thunder from a player – someone dedicated to the cause and they got that from the on loan Hull man when he came on. Winning five of his seven duals and making three recoveries. He also delivered a cross which Bradshaw almost scored from but was denied by a fine stop from the Sunderland goalkeeper. He also hit the post as the Lions went in search of a winner. 

Ryan Leonard was back in the side and is someone who is so important to this Millwall team. His inclusion allowed Brooke Norton-Cuffy to move further forward and play on the right wing. Leonard’s battle with Jack Clarke was the key one of the afternoon. A battle that Millwall’s very own James Milner seemed to have been winning. He will be disappointed with the penalty, a decision that has caused great controversy and was the talking point from the contest. 

Two different angles show different things. My first thought when I saw it in real time is that it was a penalty. However, looking back at it from other angles may suggest the former Sheffield United man got the ball. Either way, Millwall are a much more solid side when Leonard is in there and Edwards, I’m sure, will be looking to include him in this side going forward.

MORE PROBLEMS BUILDING 

Millwall do not have the biggest squad as we know and injuries and suspensions are mounting. The likes of Matija Sarkic, Shaun Hutchinson and Duncan Watmore have all made comebacks over the last week, but Casper De Norre will not play again this side of Christmas. George Saville and Jake Cooper will both miss the trip to Cardiff on Saturday as both picked up their fifth bookings of the season – meaning they suffer an automatic one-game suspension. Joe Bryan is also still injured.

While there is cover there for those players, with captain Hutchinson likely to replace his deputy Cooper in central defence and Allan Campbell likely to come into the midfield it will leave the Lions short on the bench. We could once again see some of the younger players included in the matchday squad in South Wales. 

We are now heading into the most hectic part of the season, the Lions play seven games in December – four games in six days from the 23rd to 29th December. The Millwall head coach will be hoping that he has as big a squad to choose from as possible over that period. January is of course just around the corner and I’m sure some reinforcements will be wanted to bolster a squad that does look rather thin on the ground in certain positions. 

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