Dichio turns game on its head

Millwall 2 Sunderland 1
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The Independent Football

Danny Dichio, 29-year-old veteran of Queen's Park Rangers, Sampdoria, Derby County and recently West Bromwich Albion, yesterday came back to halt another of his former clubs, Sunderland, by scoring both goals on his loan-debut for Millwall. Not only that, he ended Sunderland's run of five successive League wins.

Millwall had been happy with their last performance, a goalless draw at Wigan, and looked forward to yesterday's match as another significant pointer to whether or not they would reach the play-off places into which Sunderland were already looking settled. Playing without the Argentinian striker Julio Arca, who was suspended, Sunderland suffered a troubled introduction.

Millwall snapped and snarled, Dennis Wise got stuck in like the terrier of old, Dichio, who has only recently recovered from a hernia operation, slithered chances by post and bar, as he has too often tended to do, but then forced a stretching, diving save from Mart Poom and Sunderland had to take him seriously. Meanwhile, their manager, Mick McCarthy, who, in his early days in charge of Millwall a few years ago was popular, was now jeered by his old fans, who revelled in his nervous discomfort on the touchline.

Tetchiness became the theme of the match. The referee remained amazingly tolerant and Wise surprisingly tolerated some pretty rough treatment, probably on the basis that Millwall were getting the better of the debate, physically and tactically. Dichio clearly had a hunger to impress and cleverly brushed aside defenders to send Neil Harris away, only for Poom to move out alertly and deflect his shot wide.

That Sunderland defied all of that to take a 30th-minute lead seemed illogical. Stephen Wright opened Millwall's midfield with a shrewd pass to Kevin Kyle on the right side. A low centre evaded all of the Millwall defenders, and consequently Marcus Stewart swept in an unlikely goal.

The lead lasted for nine minutes and was balanced, appropriately, by Dichio, who by then could have had a hat-trick. Peter Sweeney had been found on the left wing by Kevin Braniff and he looked across the penalty area to see Dichio moving in to intimidate Poom, who failed to be first to the cross. Dichio emphatically headed in. As the game grew ever more competitive, so Sunderland realised the need to control its pace and emphasise the quality of their passing.

That did not alter the fact that Jason McAteer and Wise remained at loggerheads. In one extraordinary incident, ignored by the patient referee, McAteer caught Wise in the face and Wise head-butted McAteer in the stomach. Memories of rugged days at the Old Den flooded back. Millwall continued to ply Dichio with long balls and centres, but after an hour it was a neat chipped through-ball from Harris that saw Dichio flick a header past Poom.

Millwall 2
Dichio 39, 62

Sunderland 1
Stewart 30

Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 13,048