The visitors at the Stadium of Light took the lead in the 17th minute when Daniel Barlaser’s corner was headed home by Michael Ihiekwe, boosting their automatic promotion hopes following a rocky period for the Millers.
And with the hosts failing to get into their prove for much of the game, it looked as though Paul Warne’s men would head back to South Yorkshire with three vital points in the bag.
Sunderland quiz: Does the Stadium of Light have a bigger or smaller capacity than these 20 stadiums?
Unfortunately for goalscorer Ihiekwe, he would have a say in the equaliser too as he inadvertently headed Jack Clarke’s cross past Viktor Johansson with just two minutes left of normal time to play.
However, neither side were able to add to the late drama as they shared the spoils, a real sucker punch for Warne’s men who looked set to claim a crucial win in their quest to fend off MK Dons.
We’re focusing on the hosts in this piece though as we discuss three things we clearly learnt about Alex Neil and his team following yesterday’s game.
Neil is a patient manager
Following a very underwhelming first 45 minutes, Neil could have been justified in making one or two substitutions at the break to try and turn the scoreline around.
At this stage of the season with the likes of the Black Cats, Plymouth Argyle, Wycombe Wanderers and Sheffield Wednesday all packed in closely together in their aim to get into the top six, many people wouldn’t have blamed him for rolling the dice with the Black Cats ideally needing all three points from last night’s tie.
However, the 40-year-old remained patient and didn’t make a change until the 54th minute, something he may be criticised for considering it appeared they needed a shake-up well before then.
Some would praise him for sticking to his guns though and that may be the strategy he employs if the Wearside outfit manage to force their way into the play-offs.
It’s certainly something to look out for if they do secure a top-six finish – because this coolness could make all the difference in a play-off final – for better or for worse.
They don’t suit going more defensive
It was clear for much of the game that the Black Cats would have benefitted from having Elliot Embleton in the starting lineup after seeing him dropped in favour of Jay Matete.
Although they were coming up against a stronger opponent in Rotherham yesterday, making that switch after a 5-1 victory was a surprising one.
This tinkering didn’t pay dividends for the hosts, with Matete not exactly having his best game and more creativity needed with Embleton and Alex Pritchard on the bench.
The third-tier may not have performed particularly well for large stages of the second half and they did benefit from a bizarre own goal – but the fact they did manage to get an equaliser following the duo’s introduction should be enough for at least one of them to start the next game.
Neil’s men are much stronger on paper than Morecambe, so they may have the license to be more attacking once again and if this formula works at the Mazuma Stadium, they should carry this into a potential play-off campaign.
Promotion isn’t just a formality
Neil may have enjoyed a reasonably successful time since his arrival at the Stadium of Light and this is why many Sunderland fans can perhaps be forgiven for feeling that they are firm favourites going into the play-offs with their unbeaten run in the league.
However, last night was a sobering reminder that they aren’t invincible just yet, failing to perform up to expectations for the vast majority of the game and only being bailed out by a moment of madness.
In fairness, they have to be credited for not giving up and they have scored yet another late goal, a psychological advantage that could be a real asset to them and a source of fear for their opponents in their quest for promotion.
But the late equaliser shouldn’t gloss over a poor performance. The manager has to take responsibility for his mistakes, but so should the players and with the club still in the promotion mix, they need to keep standards high.