Football: Keane's Bringing Home the Bacon

Article excerpt

Byline: Paul Gilder Chief Sports Writer

Sunderland 1

Norwich City 0

ROY Keane had a strange feeling in his stomach when he arrived at the Stadium of Light on Saturday lunchtime, but it had nothing to do with the bacon and egg sandwich he had consumed as his pre-match meal.

The footballing fare that followed was so unappetising there were few on Wearside who experienced a sensation similar to that of the optimistic Irishman. Given his hunger for success, Keane always believed that his team would find a winning recipe.

And, while their performance was unpalatable in parts, Sunderland's manager savoured a vital victory almost as much as he had the victuals with which he prepared for the 15th game of his Black Cats reign.

The football was not of the same standard as his breakfast but the outcome was, he insisted, the most satisfying yet of his short managerial career. And, although much of the match left those who witnessed it feeling decidedly queasy, the nausea proved shortlived. By the final whistle the feelgood factor had returned, the taste of triumph proving the perfect tonic for those who have endured such malaise in recent years. So sickening has been the club's decline, supporters who have had so little to celebrate will accept victories no matter how they are achieved.

In the aftermath of a third win in four games, Keane spoke of the importance of winning ugly and, should his team continue to do so, there will be no complaints from the red-and-white faithful.

A manager who has spent his career at the peak of his profession may never have played in the Championship, but he knows what is required to succeed there.

It will be a grind, explained a man who is well aware that pretty performances are not the key to winning promotion. In this division, fight is more important than flair.

It was a theory that had been borne out by his players during 90 mundane minutes. It was never aesthetically pleasing, but then it did not need to be.

It was all about the result and, having seen their side string together a five-game unbeaten run for the first time this season, the home fans went home happy. So too did Keane, who has never been more content with the efforts of his players. The Black Cats have moved to within five points of a play-off position and, although it is impossible to say where they will finish in a league of startling unpredictability, should Sunderland continue in such a mood of grim determination, they are likely to end up closer to the top than the bottom.

There are some obvious shortcomings yet this is a team that can grind as well as any in their division. The football is, at times, unrefined, the passing poor and the mistakes rudimentary' yet none can question their commitment or fault their fighting spirit.

Take Dean Whitehead, who played out of position with a hamstring injury' or Liam Miller, who, having travelled to Ireland for a funeral last week, was given the chance to take the weekend off by Keane. Determined to play, the midfielder returned to the North-East on Friday evening and was Sunderland's outstanding performer.

Take Daryl Murphy who, having been asked to operate as a lone striker, was starved of service and given little chance to succeed in a position of unenviable isolation. Yet he never stopped trying and with 14 minutes remaining and an uninspiring game bound for stalemate, the 23-year-old fired a goal of breathtaking precision to secure a result that did not appear probable.

Take Danny Collins, who is starting to prove wrong his doubters, and Steve Caldwell, who has struggled to command a regular place in a team of which he is the captain in recent weeks. The pair combined to help their side keep a first clean sheet in seven attempts, although Norwich's alarming lack of attacking ambition must also be taken into account.

For a team that played so poorly, there was much to admire and, whether it was their resolve and their resilience, or their effort and industry, all that was good about the Wearsiders had been instilled by a single-minded manager. …