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Monday, April 16, 2007

QPR vs Sunderland - Additional Reports & Comments

The Guardian - Keane's killer instinct will make top flight a better place Louise Taylor at the Stadium of Light

Roy Keane has led Sunderland to the Premiership's doorstep displaying an enthusiasm for constant rotation which leaves Rafael Benítez looking a touch predictable and a penchant for making game-altering substitutions that even Jose Mourinho might admire.
Indeed Keane has changed his starting XI 39 times in succession this season, fielding 36 players, and is proving a dab hand at securing late wins by judicious use of the bench. On Saturday, for instance, Grant Leadbitter came on to score the winning goal five days after he had done precisely the same thing at Southampton.

"I've driven it through to the players that 11 of them wouldn't be enough to get us promoted," said Keane. "You need a big squad and all these lads have got to accept it. I know players are upset but nobody has kicked my door in yet and I wouldn't expect them to. Actions speak louder than words; that means training properly, being on time, not sulking and taking your chances."
John Gregory feels Keane, whose side could clinch promotion on Saturday, fully deserves a chance to pit his wits against Mourinho, Benítez and Sir Alex Ferguson. "Roy expects certain standards and he's certainly getting the best out of his players," said QPR's manager.

"Sunderland - who are by far the best team we've played this season - West Brom and Southampton are probably the only teams in the Championship who get the ball off the goalkeeper and play it out from the back. Sunderland pass it as well as West Brom but with the intention of actually getting somewhere. They've just got that bit of devil in them which obviously comes from the manager."

The Wearsiders - given an early lead by Dean Whitehead's shot but pegged back by Martin Rowlands' equaliser from the penalty spot before Leadbitter's 20-yard decider - were far from their slick-passing, incisive-crossing best here and the slightly apologetic look on Keane's face as he shook hands with Gregory afterwards spoke volumes.

Back in the late 1990s Gregory was hailed as the brightest new manager on the block after briefly leading Aston Villa to the top of the Premiership. There was talk of him coaching England and a record which saw Villa never finish below eighth during his time in charge was certainly far from shabby. But managerial stars can wane as fast as they wax and Gregory, who seems increasingly likely to keep QPR in the Championship, spent three years unemployed before returning to Loftus Road last September.

"I know about the Premiership, I've been there," he reminded everyone. "I don't know about Sunderland taking it by storm but, without a doubt, it will be more interesting with Roy Keane in it."

It will be more attacking, too. Once Leadbitter scored, many managers would have ordered their sides to shut up shop but Sunderland continued pouring forward looking to extend their lead. "I admire attack-minded teams and I'd rather have players who want to get that third goal," said Keane. "Ultimately that's what fans pay their money to come and see. They don't want negative stuff." Crowds were down to 24,000 when he came in. Saturday's was over 39,000.

It must be hoped that the realities of competing with Mourinho and Benítez do not turn the Championship maverick into a Premiership pragmatist.

Man of the match Nyron Nosworthy (Sunderland) Guardian

Sunderland 2 QPR 1: Leadbitter strike shows Keane has house in order
By Simon Turnbull
Published: 16 April 2007
Unlike the unfortunate Bell family from down the road in Houghton-le-Spring, Roy Keane is unlikely to experience any trashing of his property by misguided members of the younger generation. "Nobody's kicked my door in yet," the Sunderland manager said on Saturday night. "I wouldn't expect them to."

The suggestion was that Grant Leadbitter might have gone so far as to knock down the entrance to the manager's office at the Stadium of Light after being returned to bench duty following his winning contribution as a substitute at Southampton last Monday. Some chance.

It would take someone with as reckless a mindset as the wreckers of Rachael Bell's parents' £250,000 home to risk messing with the man who, according to John Gregory, the losing manager on Saturday, has put "that devil" back into Sunderland.

Sensibly, Leadbitter chose to bide his time on the bench before getting his chance in the final half-hour and battering down Queen's Park Rangers' defensive door with a 20-yard strike - a first-time delivery, hit low 14 minutes from time - that earned a 14th win in an unbeaten run of 17 League matches. Sunderland are on the brink of promotion, four points clear at the top of the Championship with three games left.

"Grant signed a new contract about four weeks ago," Keane said. "He maybe should have held out a bit longer, with the two goals he's scored in the last week."

Perhaps so, but the fact that Leadbitter was quick to sign up is a reflection of the Roy Keane revolution. There is no guarantee that the gifted 21-year-old central midfielder will play anything more than a continuing bit-part, yet still he is happy to take his chance with his home-town club.

"When players are left out I don't need them to come and see me," Keane said. "I expect them to be upset but actions speak louder than words: by training properly every single day and taking your chance when you get it, like Grant did today."

He did that, helping his side get a grip on the game, Martin Rowland's 23rd-minute penalty having equalised Dean Whitehead's fine early opener and given Rangers, struggling against the drop, the resolve to frustrate their hosts.

In 38 Championship matches Keane has still to name an unchanged side, shuffling 35 names. If his next combination wins at Colchester on Saturday, and if Derby lose at home to Luton on Friday night, Sunderland will be back in the Premiership.

Goals: Whitehead (7) 1-0; Rowlands pen (23) 1-1; Leadbitter (76) 2-1.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Ward; Simpson, Nosworthy, Evans, Collins; Edwards, Whitehead, Yorke (Leadbitter, 61), Wallace (John, h-t); Connolly, Murphy (Stokes, 77). Substitutes not used: Fulop (gk), Elliott.

Queen's Park Rangers (4-4-2): Camp; Timoska, Cullip (Kanyuka, 43), Stewart, Bignot; Rowlands, Bolder, Lomas (Idiakez, 83), Smith; Moore (Furlong, 69), Blackstock. Substitutes not used: Cole (gk), Nygaard.

Referee: M Jones (Cheshire).

Booked: Sunderland Simpson; QPR Cullip, Bolder, Furlong.

Man of the match: Nosworthy.

Attendance: 39,206. Independent

Sunderland (1) 2 Queens Park Rangers (1) 1

Roy Keane explained after this 14th victory in a 17-match unbeaten run that the compassionate side of his character had helped him guide Sunderland to the brink of promotion.

The former Manchester United captain has signed 10 players and recruited three on loan since taking over eight months ago. Helping them adjust to new surroundings had helped reap rich rewards.

"A lot were already at established clubs on good contracts and you're asking them to come to a club that's literally at the bottom of the championship," Keane said. "They were brave enough to make their decisions, they had to trust me and I've got to repay that faith by making things right for the players, the training, the travelling, contract situations, housing, and schooling for their kids.

"I had to take the disappointment of earlier this season on my shoulders, when results were up and down. I had to chop and change to give players a chance to settle in. They were moving to new areas, kids in schools, houses and so on.

"That side of things is very much underestimated in a footballer's life. You can't take those things for granted. Some people like to throw money at players, but players need time to settle in and feel wanted.

"They need to feel happy. If they're happy coming to work you can be pretty sure they're going to play better. If they come in and are disappointed with the environment and the training, hotels and travel arrangements, they won't perform. You've got to treat them properly and show respect."

Keane believes his players "enjoy each others' company, although I'm not sure they enjoy mine", but he could rest assured the supporters would be toasting him after the grip on pole position was strengthened.

"I always try and gauge after a game whether supporters will enjoy their few pints tonight and I think they will," he said. "That makes me happy."

At this rate, the Samaritans fund-raising outside the ground before kick-off might be put out of work.

After Dean Whitehead burst forward to secure an early lead, Martin Rowlands equalised with a penalty after Darren Ward upended Dexter Blackstock. Grant Leadbitter then sparked delirium by elegantly stroking home a 20-yard winner.

"Grant signed a new contract four weeks ago - he should have held on a bit longer after scoring both goals in the last two weekends," said Keane, still to field an unchanged side following 39 games in charge.

Leadbitter added: "I'd better keep up scoring goals and the way I'm playing because I might get another contract. It was pleasing to get the new contract but the day after I wanted a new one. That's the way I am. I want to better myself."

John Gregory, the visiting manager, thought one victory would "get us across the line" to safety but his own future remains a greater doubt.

"Hopefully we'll stay up and then we'll have to see what we'll do in the summer," Gregory said. "A lot of changes need to be made all the way through the club."

He is certain Keane will enhance the Premiership next season.

"Sunderland have that bit of devil in them which obviously comes from the manager and I can't see them messing this up," Gregory said. "And without doubt the Premiership will be more interesting with Roy Keane in it. He's a personality - without even opening his mouth." Telegraph

Keane prepares to reap reward
Sunderland 2 Queens Park Rangers 1: Home team extend their unbeaten run to 17 games

George Caulkin
The Samaritans were shaking buckets outside the Stadium of Light; not too long ago, it would have been a better venue for collecting clients. As recently as last August, Sunderland were the biggest charitable donors in football, but their philanthropy was measured on the pitch. Their opponents would turn up, plead poverty and leave with three points.

Times have changed, however, and Wearside with it. This is no longer a club of depressives and soft touches. Encounter diversity and they snarl at it, win and they endeavour to win again, win better. Excuses, context and convenience have been rejected, a methodology, patented by Roy Keane, which now appears certain to drive them to automatic promotion.

All concerned may wish to obliterate the memory of the 2002 World Cup, particularly now that Keane and Niall Quinn are colleagues and allies, but it is appropriate to recall the source of Ireland’s sporting civil war. “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail,” was Keane’s motto as he railed against his country’s haphazard organisation; Sunderland are revelling in his antidote.

Keane said: “The players seem to enjoy each others’ company, although I’m not sure they enjoy mine. There is a great working environment around this football club and a good feel. It wasn’t an easy decision for them to come to Sunderland. A lot were already at established clubs on good contracts and we were asking them to come to a team that was literally at the bottom of the Championship.

“They were brave enough to make the decision, they had to trust me and what I was doing here and I’ve got to repay that faith by making things right for the players. The training, the travelling, their contracts, their housing, schooling for their kids, making sure it’s all in place. They were moving to a new area and that side of thing is underestimated in a footballer’s life.

“You can’t take those things for granted. Some people throw money at players, but what they need is time to settle, to feel wanted, happy. If they’re happy at work you can be pretty sure they’re going to play better. If they come in and are disappointed with the environment and the training, with hotels and travel arrangements, they won’t perform. You’ve got to treat them properly and show them respect.”

That culture is thriving at a club which is well-equipped at setting standards. Last season, it was the feeblest points tally in the history of the Barclays Premiership, but their present sequence of 17 league games without defeat equates to their best run since 1999. If they remain unbeaten for the rest of the season, a new club record will be established.

Queens Park Rangers had the audacity to equalise — Martin Rowlands scoring from the penalty spot after Dean Whithead had grasped a seventh-minute lead — but what in the past would have been embraced as permission to wilt, was swatted away. For the second time in as many matches, Grant Leadbitter clambered from the substitutes’ bench to spear the winner. His finish was exquisite.

Even then, there was no let-up, no stalling or playing for time, no acceptance of what they had. “I don’t mind that,” Keane, who has already begun negotiations about extending his contract, said. “All the teams I’ve admired over the years have been attack-minded ones and, of course, that’s what I’m trying to get across here. Fans don’t want to see negative stuff. I always try and gauge whether supporters will enjoy their few pints and I think they will tonight. That makes me happy.”

If results are sympathetic, elevation can be secured as early as this weekend and Keane briefly allowed his thoughts to wander — very briefly.

“I think we have plenty of players in our squad who can hold their own in the Premiership,” he said. “But like every other manager, you’re always looking to improve. It will be nice to see, but we can’t be looking too far ahead.”

It is deeply superior to looking over their shoulders.

Sunderland (4-4-2): D Ward — D Simpson, N Nosworthy, J Evans, D Collins — C Edwards, D Whitehead, D Yorke (sub: G Leadbitter, 61min), R Wallace (sub: S John, 46min) — D Connolly, D Murphy (sub: A Stokes, 77). Substitutes not used: M Fulop, S Elliott. Booked: Simpson. FORM WWWWWD NEXT Colchester United (h)

Queens Park Rangers (4-4-2): L Camp — S Timoska, D Cullip (sub: P Kanyuka, 44), D Stewart, M Bignot — M Rowlands, A Bolder, S Lomas (sub: I Idiakez, 82), J Smith — D Blackstock, S Moore (sub: P Furlong, 64). Substitutes not used: J Cole, M Nygaard. Booked: Bolder, Cullip, Furlong. FORM LWWWLW NEXT Cardiff City (h) Times

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