JOE Edwards was frustrated that his Millwall side could not secure victory over Sunderland but admitted the Black Cats “mounted a lot of pressure” in a frantic second half.
Not much happened for the opening half an hour and then Kevin Nisbet gave the Lions the lead just before half-time.
A feisty and energetic second half saw Jack Clarke win a penalty off Ryan Leonard, Sunderland miss some major chances, Ryan Longman hit the post before Tom Bradshaw had the rebound ruled out for offside and saw a separate effort denied by a wonderful Anthony Patterson save.
Along with all of that, George Saville and Jake Cooper both picked up costly bookings that means they are suspended for next week’s trip to Cardiff City.
Edwards reflected on the hard-fought 1-1 draw after the game,.
He told reporters: “I’m probably a bit frustrated. I think getting the first goal has been a big thing in the games that we’ve had so far. When we scored first in my first game at Sheffield Wednesday, the confidence really grew. And vice-versa in the other games where we’ve conceded [first].
“I thought Sunderland started the game well but then we grew and once we got the first goal I thought there was a noticeable change in the team. We looked confident.
“The fans really supported us well and it felt like we were building some nice momentum albeit they pretty much dominated possession throughout the game, we always posed a threat and looked confident in our defending. The way they use the width and the wide players in their team it causes everyone problems but I thought we dealt well with it.
“When you lead a game for so long and you don’t win, it feels disappointing but I think you have to respect they had a lot of control of the game and in the second half they mounted a lot of pressure as an away team. So for me it’s just areas where we can improve but I thought we did so well without the ball.
“I think we posed a threat on the break and in transition and we just have to keep bridging that gap where we can look after the ball a bit more so we don’t have to play at our absolute max just to take a point at home.”
On the penalty-incident which saw Leonard make a late tackle on Clarke in the box, Edwards said he couldn’t be certain of the decision even after seeing replays.
He said: “I’ve seen two angles. I’ve seen an angle where it looks like a clear foul and then I’ve seen a different angle where Lenny gets a touch of the ball with his toe and you can see the line of the ball change. So if I’m saying that having seen two angles, I won’t get on the ref’s case too much as I don’t know what he sees.
“It’s a shame because we knew the threat that Clarke poses and we planned to defend like that, doubling up with Lenny and Brooke, and I thought for most of the game he always looked like a threat and we dealt with him very well and and he didn’t hurt us anywhere as near as he’s hurt some other teams.
“Really frustrating that such a marginal decision is what costs us two points.”
It could be argued Clarke was lucky to even be on the pitch after making multiple late challenges on Leonard during their intense cat-and-mouse battle in the first half, for which he was only booked for one.
Edwards said: “I haven’t seen that back yet but the way the players are talking about it, the potential second yellow, those are the moments that define games. So if it’s deserved, which I haven’t seen, it’s frustrating but I wouldn’t go too hard on that.”
Saville and Cooper were booked for dissent in a fast-paced second half and Edwards said their yellows were “unnecessary”.
The Lions head coach said: “They were unnecessary bookings. So that is really frustrating from that point of view. Obviously one game from the [suspension] cut-off and to lose two players like that is disappointing but it’s that stage of the season where it’s busy, everyone’s going to need to rely on the full depth of their squad and we’re no different. It just means that two people will have to come in next week and do their jobs.”
Edwards also gave an insight into his preparations for dealing with Sunderland, who are tricky customers on their day.
He said: “I think there was a specific plan for this game as well and you often talk about your back four being quite close and compact. I think if you get too narrow as a back four against Sunderland, it’s such a clear tactic of theirs. They hold the width, switch the ball wide as they’ve got players out there that can really hurt you. So with the way we used our wide players in having Brooke and George Honeyman. Brooke is a defender but obviously offers a lot of threat in attack.
“George Honeyman is an incredibly diligent player in his work ethic and defending. It was about those two staying narrower and more compact so the full backs could release themselves and get out there earlier. And if they’re getting stretched, it means people have got to cover.
“It required a lot of work but I thought the lads carried it out well in the main. Sunderland had a lot of ball but did not have many big chances. That’s probably the fewest saves Bart [Bialkowski] has made since I’ve been here.”