Sixer’s Millwall Soapbox: Black Cats can’t see off the Lions

Malcolm Dawson writes…….I’m starting to get worried. Following on from the shining example of scribemeister Pete Sixsmith, I have embarked on a weight loss campaign and now some 40lbs lighter (just another 40 to go!) I find that the pain in my knees is considerably less and I am walking much better. The fact my arthritis had made the journey to and from the car too painful to contemplate was my excuse for not renewing my season card last April – as outlined in an earlier blog post. I haven’t missed much by the sound of it (certainly not a home win) and at only £3 to get into West Auckland’s Wanted Stadium yesterday my bank balance has been a lot healthier. But Peter is more resilient and he was back at the Stadium of Light to witness a record breaking performance. What did he make of it? Read on…..

Sixer witnesses another broken record


If it’s any consolation to poor Robbin Ruiter (and I’m sure it isn’t) that wasn’t quite the worst goalkeeping performance I have ever seen by a Sunderland keeper. That honour goes to Sandy McLaughlan on New Year’s Day 1966 when presumably still under the influence of Irn Bru and deep fried Mars Bars, the Scot conceded 5 at Roker against West Bromwich Albion – and never played for Sunderland again.

Having said that, Ruiter’s performance and that of his Millwall counterpart, Jordan Archer, were an insult to the noble art of goalkeeping. Would Johnny Mapson have allowed one to trickle through his legs? Would Bryan King, the Millwall keeper throughout the 60s and 70s, have dropped the first cross put into him at the feet of the opposition’s top scorer?

Would Barry Siddall have left his near post as open as the Dutchman did for the second goal – and would his postman’s hands have been able to push it out? And would Billy Casper in Ken Loach’s film “Kes” have made a better attempt at saving Adam Matthews’s admittedly tricky cross? Had PE teacher Mr “I’m Bobby Charlton” Sugden been in charge of The Lions, poor Archer would have been forced through the showers while they were cold and then told to “drip dry” when he emerged.

So a master class in goalkeeping catastrophe as another opportunity to win the first home game since Theresa May looked a viable Prime Minister and Barrack Obama was making apple pie beds all over the White House in preparation for the arrival of Donald Trump, was spurned. Just as it was against Queens Park Rangers, Bolton Wanderers and Nottingham Forest, points which would have put us in a kind of mid table comfort zone instead of propping up the second tier and staring into the abyss that is now known as League One.

What lies beneath the covers? Never clean sheets at the Stadium of Light!

Take the two errors out and Ruiter did quite well. He caught every cross that he came for and made one very good save in the second half which stopped Millwall from probably winning their first away game of the season. But keepers stand or fall by the goals they let in and both of those were down to him. Even Rumpole of the Bailey would have a hard job convincing a jury that the Dutchman may well have been hapless but he was not the only one to blame.

Having started brightly and gone ahead, what on earth possessed Johnny Williams to barge into the back of Lee Gregory? Not only did The Lions score from the resultant free kick, but Williams was led off with a shoulder injury and was replaced by George Honeyman.

Then, having just conceded the equaliser, why did John O’Shea foul the same player? Same position, same free kick, same result. A man of his experience should know better – but when your whole career has been spent marking the likes of Aguero, Drogba and Suarez, it can be difficult to come up against a street wise forward who was Jamie Vardy’s replacement at FC Halifax Town.

I shudder to think where we would be without Grabban. He took his goal well and he actually moves into space ready to receive the ball. Unfortunately, he rarely gets it where he wants it. He thrives on running channels and outpacing defenders. We have a tendency to lump the ball up and expect him to chase after it.

Kit Symons

Kit Symons was watching from the stands as his pal Chris Coleman was switching on the Christmas lights in Newport. This is what he might have said. “Bloody hell, Chris, we’ve got a job on our hands here. There’s a pair of goalkeepers who have no confidence and who nobody believes in. The full backs are OK going forward but the two central defenders are really creaking. Marc Wilson would make a good stand off for Newport Gwent Dragons, he kicks the ball that far. In midfield, they had Lee Cattermole, harshly booked in the first half and reasonably effective in the second. But he is nowhere near the player he was three years ago and even further away from the player and icon he thinks he is.

Young Williams ran around a lot and then injured himself – not that he needs any help on that score. The lad who came on tries hard but he is neither big enough nor strong enough. McNair has just come back from a bad injury but he was shattered as the game went on and was bullied out of the game by the opposition. McGeady does what he does and is nice to watch but the final ball isn’t good enough and his corners aren’t great. Mind, there’s no height in the team so when it does get into the box, nobody is big enough to win it.

Young Watmore showed a lot of pace and could have had a penalty but then he was injured and went off. McManaman came on, did well to get to the by-line but wasn’t given enough of the ball. He was blowing like a grampus after half an hour and he clearly isn’t match fit. Grabban is good but they don’t play to his strengths – he’s not a player who wastes his energy like Honeyman or Williams, he needs the ball played in front of him.

The crowd were up for the game at the start and almost relaxed when the first goal was scored. But they became edgy and seem quite keen on irony – they cheered when the keeper caught the ball in the second half. This will not be easy, Chris. There is very little confidence or self-belief and not a great number of options. If we want to play three at the back, we will struggle as they only have three centre backs and one of them went off at the end. They were missing Ndong but I think you may have to sell him in order to raise funds for some signings in January.

Alan Durban

After Villa on Tuesday, we have five games up to Christmas. Take out Wolves away and the others are games we have to win. Not sure that the sum of the parts will equal a whole one, Chris. What do you mean, I’m on my own? How did you get a job as Santa in a Newport department store? Can you not get me fixed up as an elf?”

Coleman arrives today so let’s hope that the Symonds dossier is a bit thicker and considerably more upbeat than that. He has a difficult job trying to save us from League One, embarrassment and possible oblivion.

The last Welshman to manage us was Alan Durban. He once said “If you want entertainment go to the circus.”

Chris Coleman might see this one as more Monty Python than Billy Smart.

The first time ever I saw your team: Millwall

Sleek Sixer …

John McCormick writes – I  do remember a trip to the Old Den in the ’70s but like Pete Sixsmith, I struggle to remember seeing Millwall at Roker and it’s possible I never did.  From 1970 I was a student down south in Yorkshire and I often played sport rather than watched it. I did get back to some games so I can’t rule this one out, especially as it was played in May, but Pete’s account includes a player who, like the game, stirs nothing in what’s left of my memory. Luckily, that’s not the case with Mr Sixsmith:

Read moreThe first time ever I saw your team: Millwall

If Millwall’s visit isn’t worrying enough, Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa are up next

An ominous reunion with our former boss looms. Portrait of Steve Bruce by Owen Lennox, an acclaimed Sunderland artist

Sunderland’s shameful home record will become officially the worst in English football history on Saturday if Millwall are not beaten at the Stadium of Light. Nineteen games – 18 in the Premier League and Championship and one in the FA Cup – have passed since a scrappy 1-0 defeat of Watford in December last year. That is a winless home run shared by Dagenham and Redbridge, Derby County and Nottingham Forest. Are we really about to make the record our own? Stand by for a bleak assessment of our club’s present crisis …

Perhaps the best that can be said
about the visit to Aston Villa next Tuesday is that at least Sunderland won’t be at home. The match comes four days after the managerless club must beat Millwall to avoid setting that wholly unwanted record for failing to win at home.

Read moreIf Millwall’s visit isn’t worrying enough, Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa are up next

Millwall Who are You?: Sunderland ‘will set that record for no home wins’

Lucas Ball outside The Den with Irish defender/midfielder Shaun Williams

Monsieur Salut writes: Lucas Ball* was the ideal Millwall fan to invite into the ‘Who are You?’ interview suite, aka gmail. He is just 16 so one of our youngest candidates in the series, but is passionate about his club and conducts similar interviews for Behind Enemy Lines, the Millwall fan site News at Den‘s equivalent feature. ‘The young prodigy’, another Millwall fan called him the other day.

In 1891-92, Sunderland’s Team Of All The Talents became the first to show a 100 per cent winning record at home (13 games). Lucas does not think we’ll avoid another dreaded English record, for the number of home games without a win (19 so far, including the goalless draw in the FA Cup last season), and expects a draw.

He neither rates nor hates SAFC though he feels for our fans, would take Lamine Kone, sets survival as his main objective for Millwall this season and talks of ‘extreme frustration’ at his club’s hoodlum image …

Salut! Sunderland: seven points above Sunderland, strong in defence but goalshy. Is this a season of relegation avoidance for Millwall or do you feel you can rise well away from the danger zone?

Lucas Ball: on early season performances, I think somewhere around 15th is achievable for us. The goal is simply to stay up to give us something to build on, but if we add just one or two players in January mid table is very possible. The defending has generally been excellent and Jordan Archer’s form in goal earned him a Scotland call up after he turned around his poor early season form. Conor McLaughlin and James Meredith have been excellent additions to the backline, as well as Jed Wallace and George Saville in midfield. Morison and Gregory, playing up front are struggling a bit to put their chances away at this level.

Neil Harris sounds like everyone’s dream manager: prolific striker in a fine Millwall career, then leading you as manager to two Wembley playoffs and back into the Championship. Tell us about him and your thoughts on his achievements/ability

Neil Harris was coming towards the end of his Lions playing career when I started paying attention to football and I’m gutted I never saw him play before his cancer, when he was even more prolific. I was lucky enough to meet him and have a proper photo done with him as a youngster, and will look to interview him in the next couple of years, which would be brilliant. He’s honest and loyal, two qualities which aren’t particularly prominent in today’s football, and he understands Millwall. Only people with certain mentalities succeed at this club, and Harris is certainly a strong character.

Logical next question: how high can Lions’ fans reasonably expect to see their club go? At first glance, John Berylson, a Havard-educated US businessman, seems an improbable owner/chairman of Millwall FC. How do you assess his affinity with the club and has he the resources and stamina to move you to higher levels?

Berylson is involved in real estate as far as I’m aware, so him buying the football club closest to the city of London isn’t actually as much of a surprise as it first seems. I think he is willing to invest more so we establish ourselves at this level in the coming years, but his health hasn’t been as good recently. He’s a good chairman, and hopefully he stays healthy. I wouldn’t expect to see us in the elite division any time soon, but that’s too much about money for our fans! Who knows though, Harris is a decent manager and stranger things have happened.

You can just about make out Lucas with Neil Harris

Steve Morison goals have obviously made him a hero but your record so far this season suggests the defenders are your main asset. Who is doing well and where do you badly need strengthening?

The defence has been brilliant. As mentioned above, Conor McLaughlin and James Meredith have been superb additions. Shaun Williams was in the best form of his life before his injury, whilst Byron Webster will be sorely missed after his string performances. Steve Morison is leading the line still, but he isn’t putting away his chances like last season. We need someone who’s more clinical, as Gregory isn’t scoring enough either.

Sheringham, Claridge, Morison … who are the players who have given you most pleasure as a Lions fan or make you wish you were old enough to have seen them in action?

Whilst Teddy was a great player for us, he is now hated by many Den faithful. I was born in 2000, so he was before my time, and I never really saw Claridge. I wish I’d have seen Tim Cahill and even the likes of Barry Kitchener, Terry Hurlock et al. I’ve still seen numerous stalwarts though, including Morison himself, Harris, Robinson, Dunne, Forde and Abdou. I might have missed someone there, really not sure!

Who should never have been allowed near The Den?

Ian Holloway and the vast majority of his countless signings! He ruined the club and the wage bill spiralled under him. It was ridiculous. Gary Taylor-Fletcher, to name just one was a complete waste of space.

Your highlights as a supporter are not difficult to guess. Wembley apart, what else sticks in the memory?

Listening to the game (from home) where Neil Harris became record scorer was incredible, it was great to see him break that after so long with us. I’ve watched us four times at Wembley, I didn’t go this year due to a family problem. For such a small club we’ve certainly had some highs. Being in the press box to watch some fantastic performances this year has been excellent too.

And lowest points?

I was very annoyed when Kenny Jackett resigned, the guy was an excellent manager for us for five years. Relegation in 2015 was probably my lowest point since I started properly following the club back in 2009. Harris did what he could to save us but the damage was done by Ollie.

You probably get fed up with being asked about hooliganism but it’s not controversial to suggest that some Lions’ fans have worn the unsavoury image as a badge of honour (I remember interviewing a semi-reformed hooligan years ago and he was proud of the punches he and his mates threw). What’s your view?

I’ve seen clips where we are proud of it, and it’s almost part of the culture of the club. However, we haven’t had much real major trouble in recent years and most of us get extremely frustrated by the label we all get stuck with. Half the time in recent years it’s not even been the regular game attendees causing the trouble, which makes it all the more frustrating for the loyal ones.

[polldaddy poll=9875265]

Thoughts on Sunderland – the club, the fans, the city and region, our perpetual managerial crises?

The only real time I know of us playing Sunderland is the FA Cup Semi Final back in 2004, one of the greatest days for most of our fans. Not a massive fan of the club, but I wouldn’t put them anywhere near my most hated. I honestly don’t know much about the city, but the fans certainly deserve better than Ellis Short. Most of the managerial merry go round at the Stadium of Light is down to his awful ownership.

Is there any SAFC player you’d like to see at The Den?

Last season I would’ve picked either Jermain Defoe (despite his links to West Ham) or Jordan Pickford. I’d probably go for Lamine Kone. Although his attitude is often criticised, I think Harris could work with him, and we do need a centre back particularly with Webster’s injury ruling him out until the end of the season.

Enter the prize Guess the Score by clicking on this link

Jake: ‘this time, Lads?’

Hand on heart, were will our clubs finish this season?

I think we’ll finish about 15th and Sunderland around 18th. It’ll be hard to turn around such a poor start.

Diving the other forms of cheating: a lost cause or still worth trying to stamp out?

For the sake of the game and the legacy of those legends left behind, we have to keep trying to stamp it out. It’s worth trying to keep whatever integrity we can in the sport! Tougher punishments are needed for diving.

Will you be at the game and what will be the score?

I won’t be, no. I’ll go for Sunderland 1-1 Millwall though. I’m backing George Saville to get our goal.

Jake: ‘let’s be having you’

* Lucas Ball on himself: I’m 16 and an aspiring sports journalist. I started my A Levels in September, and grew up in Medway, Kent. My dad and grandad before him are/were Millwall fans respectively, and I followed in their footsteps. A shame that I never got to visit the old stadium!

Interview: Colin Randall

Sunderland vs Millwall prize Guess the Score: will the wretched run finally end?

Jake: ‘make our day!’

As the laborious and uninspiringly low-profile search for a new manager goes on, Sunderland return to Championship action with only a month left of the year since we last won at home.

Can we finally get three points at the Stadium of Light without needing three games to do so? Will Ellis Short accuse the media of making it up if we don’t?

Read moreSunderland vs Millwall prize Guess the Score: will the wretched run finally end?

Middlesbrough, Villa, Fulham, Sheffield Wed, Leeds, Norwich top six. Bristol and Burton Albion – ‘nul points’

John McCormick: We're not bottom, so is it a Happy Christmas?
John McCormick. Going for a Burton

Should I be disappointed? Not with the goings-on at the offices and by the officers of Sunderland Football Club but with the response to my “who’ll be the top six” poll. In 2015 our “who’s going down” poll had over 7,000 votes cast, last year we had over 2,500.

This year it wasn’t until events at the club brought in new readers that we got past 1,000 votes. To date we have had perhaps 200-300 readers bothering to take part. What’s more, whereas in the past we have had interesting and entertaining comments from fans from other clubs this year we had had nothing. Is this what the championship’s like? Or is it the Ellis Short effect? I don’t know.

Read moreMiddlesbrough, Villa, Fulham, Sheffield Wed, Leeds, Norwich top six. Bristol and Burton Albion – ‘nul points’

Reading at last? Norwich perhaps, or Derby, Leeds, ‘Boro and Sheffield? What’s your fancy?

John McCormick:
John McCormick. Here we go again – but this time it’s different

I was away last week and didn’t log on much, on account of having a temperamental handheld device (a tip – don’t drop your computer onto a tiled surface) and iffy connections courtesy of a not-so-local bar.

But log on I did, twice.

The first time, it was to find three quarters of our readers thought our chances of immediate promotion were scuppered.

On my second log-in Colin’s poll had closed and the number had dropped to 70%. That’s still quite a damning figure.

Me, I’m not so pessimistic.

Read moreReading at last? Norwich perhaps, or Derby, Leeds, ‘Boro and Sheffield? What’s your fancy?

Salut! Sunderland Nostalgia: stuck in the mud after Millwall end cup dream

MudImage: Peter Burgess

Monsieur Salut is back in the UK, will be at Southampton on Saturday and awaits a winning goal from John O’Shea, who crowned his magnificent career in international football with a last-gap equaliser for Ireland as he claimed his 100th cap against Germany. Whatever happens at St Mary’s, Salut! Sunderland salutes John’s great achievement.

Ahead of that, let’s take another shameless dip into the archives, from the days when Salut! Sunderland had so few readers such postings were probably not seen at all. It did also appear in a matchday SAFC programme but if you missed it in either place, and have a soft spot for other people’s hard luck stories, read on. You’ll learn about a Big Match day out – our last appearance in an FA Cup semi-final, back in 2004 – that sticks nastily in the memory for some Sunderland supporters …

Read moreSalut! Sunderland Nostalgia: stuck in the mud after Millwall end cup dream

Fifty years of Sunderland openers: (2) visions of hell at Millwall

millwall prog2

The New Den is hardly the Old Den. Back in 2000, a semi-reformed Millwall Yob-and-Proud-of-It – he’d become a published author telling of his exploits – told me people were hypocritical about football hooligans because they created all the atmosphere in grounds. Pete Sixsmith, looking back in the second of this series on opening fixtures of his past, could be forgiven for thinking otherwise after experiencing a special Old Den welcome reserved for supporters of visiting teams with the audacity to score a few times. Some of the assailants that day, 40 years ago, will now be in their 80s and, presumably, causing havoc with their walking sticks in south London old people’s homes …

Read moreFifty years of Sunderland openers: (2) visions of hell at Millwall

Grounds for divorce: Everton, Leeds and West Ham share the dishonours

Ken: not a fan of Goodison, Elland Rd or Upton Park

Ken Gambles gets around. Sunderland support has taken him all over the country. Worst ground, offering grounds for divorce after a lifelong love affair with football? The old Den probably took the biscuit for Monsieur Salut – a demoralising experience that had you questioning your own sanity for being there – and if we are honest, some opposing fans will point fingers at Roker Park or the SoL. But Ken has a negative batch of medals to award to three other stadiums …

Read moreGrounds for divorce: Everton, Leeds and West Ham share the dishonours