If Bob Chapman, eternal optimist and home-and-away stalwart, is resigned to relegation, then we must be in the deepest of trouble. At least his day out produced this little gem of a report on a day that promises to be busy, if not congested, as we tie up Millwall loose ends and prepare for the Aston Villa home game …
It’s always a bonus these days when I am able to incorporate other activities in a typical match day.
Although I continue to do it, the usual 460-mile drive up and down to the SoL offers little appeal. The highlight of the day invariably being a couple of pints in the Dun Cow beforehand followed by fish and chips at Wetherby on the way back. Consequently, away days with a bunch of mates has invariably been a much better experience these past few seasons.
With the “Beast from the East” still in evidence, I managed with some difficulty to get myself to a very cold Bedford station in anticipation of the arrival of Britannia Class 70013 Oliver Cromwell. You see, as well as a passion for football I have an even longer interest in steam railway locomotives. This said loco was one that took part in the final rail tour in 1968, when steam was finally banished by British Rail.
Bit like Sunderland, I thought, as it came to a halt to pick up passengers for their day excursion to York. Unfortunately, in the next few months this loco is going to be “relegated” to a siding, fully dismantled, inspected and new parts added and then finally reassembled so that it can take its place again amongst the premier elite of express steam locomotives. Under the current arrangement its main line certificate has run out.
That’s where we are with Sunderland. Our time is running out as we enter our new Division 1 siding. I sense that the overhaul of Oliver Cromwell will be much shorter than that needed to rectify the sorry state of our club.
Having got my steam engine fix, it was off to breakfast in the Tavistock to meet Mick, Spena and Andy.
We decided to get into London for 11am and head for Smithfield’s Market. Here we would be joined by Tim, John , Stu and Roy. Roy was a late replacement for Phil Gray.
The Northern Ireland international played 115 times for us between 1993 -96, scoring 34 goals. He is probably not the only one, but is certainly one of very few who have played at both Roker Parks!
The other Roker Park is of course the ground of Stotfold F C of the South Midlands League. Phil played for them right at the end of his playing days. Anyway, it was a shame he couldn’t make it, especially as I had told him via Andy to bring his boots along as he might be needed; such are our limited centre forward options.
Back to Roy. He is a West Ham fan we have all met a few times over the years. He dislikes many things about his club, such as the owners, managing director, new ground and current manager. With a keen dislike of Millwall, he was happy to add his support for the day. Always good for his recollections he is good company.
Whatever you think of London, you can’t complain about the choice of old fashioned traditional pubs. We visited the excellent Fox and Anchor and then the Rising Sun before heading towards London Bridge for the short journey to South Bermondsey. We had no trouble finding our train, we just followed the noise.
Millwall, like many Championship clubs, have a big side who play no-nonsense direct football. The mantra is to get the ball into the box as quickly and as often as you can. Having won their last three games, they were always going to make this match a tough task for us. I didn’t feel like predicting anything but just felt that if the three central defenders all played well and didn’t make a mistake, we had a chance. More importantly would be how well the keeper played.
We started quite brightly and their only half chance came from a corner that Cattermole cleared with ease off the line. Oviedo then gave us the lead from a well-worked short corner, which is probably going to be our goal of the season.
Having taken the corner short to McGeady he received it back, beat two defenders and then rifled it in from outside the box. Jason Steele produced a routine save later in the half to maintain our lead at half time.
The second half saw little difference in the Millwall approach. The long ball game is based on percentages and by the law of averages they would get a chance and so I felt that we would always need that second goal to have any chance of coming away with a win.
Needless to say Millwall had two good chances that Steele did very well to save. As well as being able to defend properly you need a target man up front who can hold the ball up and take pressure off the defence. Needless to say Fletcher was not offering us that option. I find it unbelievable that this young man was once rated more highly than Marcus Rashford when he was at Man Utd.
Their pressure finally paid off for them with the inevitable scrappy goal from a corner in the 69th minute. We managed to survive the next 20 minutes but there seemed little possibility of us regaining the lead.
After the match the consensus was that we sat back to defend our lead and let Millwall come at us. I’m not so sure. I just felt that we are just not strong enough and we have too many small/lightweight players in the side. I suppose we should be happy with a point, but wins are needed if we are to have any chance.
After the match we headed to the Horseshoe Inn near London Bridge. We didn’t discuss our plight as there is an inevitability about it all. How are we going to score enough goals to deliver at least five wins and another five draws?
Overhauling steam engines is a long and expensive operation. So, when Oliver Cromwell finally returns after its scheduled overhaul, Sunderland will still be languishing at the end of the line in League 1 or at the best in the Championship. The Premier League is a long way off.
I call myself an optimist but even I have finally come to my senses. I suppose some of you will disagree with my view, but remember I speak with some authority as I, like Phil Gray, have played at Roker Park.