Football: Strachan plots Keane welcome for Sir Alex

Coventry City 2 Derby County 0
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IF ANYTHING can be predicted with confidence about Manchester United's visit to Highfield Road on Wednesday it is that the customary handshake between managers at the final whistle will be one formality missing from the agenda. Sir Alex Ferguson may think Gordon Strachan to be untrustworthy, as the United manager's autobiography reveals, but his former player is no hypocrite.

Now there is another dimension to what already promised to be a prickly encounter. His name is Robbie Keane, recently scorned as over-valued by Ferguson but now swelling Strachan's chest with pride after scoring both goals on his Coventry debut on Saturday. Keane, the 19-year-old set loose by Wolverhampton Wanderers to test the wits of Premiership defenders, cost Strachan's chairman pounds 6m to transport across the Midlands. Ferguson said he might pay pounds 500,000 for him and stick him in the reserves.

Ferguson has paid with lost respect for his book of "honest" recollections, but while he can upset Brian Kidd without immediate concern about crossing the professional path of his former No 2, he will have Strachan standing only a few feet away on Wednesday. He will not know where to look if Keane scores the winner.

It could happen, too, if the young Irishman is as good as Strachan dearly hopes he will be. Derby are not Manchester United, but Keane has the qualities associated with top-class strikers and, if he is worth the money Wolves asked, then it is against teams who defend as well as United that he needs to prove his ability.

Strachan is confident. "I've watched him since he was in the youth team at Wolves," he said. "He was one of those players you just get an instinct about. You can't describe what it is you see. I had it, too, when I saw Joe Cole for the first time. You think: `That's a player.' You can't say: `He's got this, he's got that'. It's just a feeling."

Nonetheless, some attributes are there for all to see. The ability to dribble and to drop the shoulder, as witnessed at close quarters by the Derby captain, Jacob Laursen, who was sent the wrong way not once but twice before Keane, with a little good fortune, opened his Coventry account. His tightly angled shot crossed the line off the elbow of the goalkeeper Mart Poom, who was clearly taken by surprise.

Then there is the ice-cool ruthlessness when a goal is what everyone expects. As Chris Sutton would testify, to be clean through with only the goalkeeper to beat is not necessarily a situation to be relished. But Keane handled it nervelessly, even having the presence of mind to check he was not offside when Steve Froggatt's pass sent him clear, and then expertly giving Poom a wide berth before tucking the ball away.

Goals: Keane (43) 1-0; Keane (67) 2-0.

Coventry City (4-3-1-2): Hedman; Edworthy, Shaw, Williams, Burrows; Telfer (Froggatt, 59), McAllister, Chippo; Hadji (Aloisi, 85); Whelan, Keane (Strachan, 84). Substitutes not used: Nuzzo (gk), Breen.

Derby County (3-5-2): Poom; Prior, Carbonari, Laursen; Borbokis, Eranio (Bohinen, 68), Johnson, Powell, Delap; Sturridge (Harper, 76), Burton (Beck, 29). Substitutes not used: Hoult (gk), Schnoor.

Referee: J Winter (Stockton).

Bookings: Coventry: Chippo, Williams; Derby: Burton, Sturridge, Johnson, Laursen, Harper.

Man of the match: Keane.

Attendance: 17,685.

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