After last weekend's breathless, free-flowing, end-to-end game at Fulham in the FA Cup, Sunderland's visit to Millwall presented a very different challenge. Physicality, aggression, and strength; it was a war of attrition at The Den.
And Tony Mowbray felt his young side side - average age 22.5 - stood up well to the test. "I think if you were preparing to play against us, I think that's how you would play," he said afterwards.
"I've managed teams against really technical football teams [like Sunderland] and if you stand off them and let them pass, it's a long day for you, so I have no problems with it."
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At Craven Cottage, Sunderland had the stage to show off their attacking prowess, but at Millwall they had to show the other side of their game. They had to display the grit, determination, and the character to withstand the intimidating atmosphere at The Den, where the crowd of 18,524 - including around 2,800 who had made the trip from the North East - represented Millwall's highest attendance since 1995.
From a footballing perspective, this is a game that will soon be forgotten. Sunderland managed only one effort on target all game, and scored from it.
Millwall managed only two, and scored from one of those. For two teams competing for play-off spots, it was not high-quality fayre.
But Sunderland will look at it as a hard-earned away point at a notoriously difficult venue. Millwall will feel they should probably have won, and for long spells they were the team on the front foot.
They saw an early penalty appeal waved away when Tom Bradshaw went down in the box under pressure from Aji Alese, and had the ball in the net through ex-Sunderland man George Honeyman only for that effort to be chalked off for an offside against George Saville in the build-up which let Anthony Patterson off the hook as he had fumbled Zian Flemming's initial shot. Murray Wallace clipped the bar with a header in the second half, and Honeyman brought a fine save out of Patterson before from the resulting corner Jake Cooper fired them in front on the hour.
Sunderland began to apply more pressure in the final 20 minutes and they got their reward when subs Alex Pritchard and Dennis Cirkin - both of whom were making their comebacks from injuries that had ruled them out since December - combined for the equaliser. Pritchard was the provider as his inswinging free-kick was met by Cirkin with a header that went in off the post, although the defender paid a heavy price for his bravery as he was knocked out cold after being accidentally caught in the face by the fists of goalkeeper George Long, and when he had come round he walked slowly off and was later confirmed to have suffered concussion.
Cirkin was replaced by deadline day signing from Everton Joe Anderson, who came on for his first senior appearance. Defensively, Sunderland had to withstand a barrage with centre-backs Danny Batth and Dan Ballard - the latter having spent last season on loan at Millwall - superb.
Dan Neil had a fine game in midfield and Edouard Michut also performed well, even though this was not the kind of game he grew up playing in France. Patrick Roberts was Sunderland's most potent attacking weapon and at times it seemed he was taking on the Millwall defence on his own, while Amad and Jack Clarke struggled to make an impact.
On-loan Leeds United striker Joe Gelhardt, who came into the side in place of the injured Ross Stewart, made a positive impact on his debut and did enough to suggest there will be more to come from him in the weeks and months ahead. Under Mowbray, Sunderland are hard to beat and they have now lost just one of their last nine games in all competitions.
They stay ninth in the Championship table, and are just two points outside the play-off places. Even with important players such as Stewart and Corry Evans ruled out for the rest of the season, they have shown they will not allow their play-off challenge to slip away without a fight.
- Millwall boss Gary Rowett rages about two key decisions he felt cost victory against Sunderland
- Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray on Dennis Cirkin's bravery and how it will cost him an FA Cup outing
- Sunderland's Dan Neil and Patrick Roberts stand out in draw at Millwall
- Sunderland's Dennis Cirkin salvages a point at Millwall in a brief comeback from injury
- Sunderland boss Tony Mowbray gives update on Ross Stewart's injury and when he might resume training