Another red-letter day for Ferguson as Keane has let-off

Guy Hodgson on the latest brush with officialdom by a volatile Irishman
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It was missed by television and, fortunately for Roy Keane, by the referee, but the one time yesterday's FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park threatened to boil over the Irishman was, almost inevitably, involved.

Four days after being dismissed playing for the Republic of Ireland, he flirted with the possibility of being sent off again.

Keane sees the red card almost as often as the red mist and Wednesday's indiscretion marked the fourth time he had been dismissed in a year. Whereas in Dublin he had been punished, yesterday he got away with it.

The incident occurred in the 64th minute when Keane was involved in a fracas with Dennis Wise, appearing to slap the Chelsea captain across the head, but just like the referee, Alex Ferguson, missed the incident.

"Maybe you'll enlighten me," the United manager said. "No doubt somebody will. I didn't see anything although Dennis Wise could start a row in an empty house. If you don't have any confrontation in a semi-final then the game is struggling. In terms of incident it was as quiet a match as you could get.

"Roy's an unfortunate player. He got booked for his first foul of the match while there were plenty of players who got away with it. `Sparky' [Mark Hughes] had his usual 20 fouls. I don't think it was a game that was hard to handle. Both teams tried to play."

Ferguson, who revealed he had been forced to attack Chelsea because of an injury to Steve Bruce removed him of security at the back, said he felt the turning point in the match was Peter Schmeichel's save from Wise in the final 10 minutes.

"It was a world-class save," he said. "If we had gone to two each it would have been a hard, hard battle for us. I think we deserved to win.''

The victory, United's ninth successive FA Cup semi-final success, was secured by David Beckham, who was played through by the unfortunate Chelsea midfielder Craig Burley. "Beckham has been one of our best players today," Ferguson commented. "It's difficult to keep him out of the team all the time. But I still feel he's getting stronger. I think in the next two years he's going to become a top player. He just has to show patience", just as Ferguson's opposite number, Glenn Hoddle, showed patience with Burley. "He's distraught in there," he said. "I've told him when you go through your career there isn't a player who doesn't do something like that. I certainly did. He got punished today but he hasn't let anyone down. He performed very well, it was just one of those terrible things that happen."