During a summer spent studying for his coaching badges, Roy Keane learnt that it was the ability to identify and solve a problem in the course of a game that would gain him the most marks. Yesterday, it appeared to be a skill he has already mastered.
Behind after conceding a goal late in the first half, Sunderland hit back to score twice in the space of 90 seconds in the second period and present the former Manchester United and Ireland captain with a victory on his debut in management.
The assumption was that a rousing half-time team talk, in character with the fiery, inspirational leadership style that distinguished his career as a player, had set in motion an impressive recovery by his reconstructed side. But if he did influence the outcome, Keane declined to take the credit.
"I didn't change my half-time talk," he said. "In fact I didn't say much at all apart from telling them to keep their heads, trust each other, and that if they did that it would be all right.
"The players showed a lot of character. To go behind was a nice test for us but the players reacted in exactly the way I hoped. I told them that character would take them a long way and that is what happened."
Matt Oakley, the Derby captain, had put his team in front in first-half stoppage time, firing home from eight yards after Steve Howard had headed a deep cross back across goal. It was a goal that the home side deserved after Sunderland had approached the first half with a measure of caution.
But the visitors stepped up their tempo in the second half, evidently drawing fresh belief from somewhere if not through the words of their manager. Chris Brown, one of only two survivors from the team who finished the Premiership under Mick McCarthy, equalised from close range after Graham Kavanagh had combined cleverly with Liam Miller on the left. Within less than two minutes, Ross Wallace had swept Sunder-land in front, beating the goalkeeper Stephen Bywater with a crisp left-foot shot as Derby's defence sat back.
The 5,000 travelling fans predictably erupted, and the excitement was clearly con-tagious, both goalscorers earning yellow cards for over-celebrating. Keane, by contrast, was a model of restraint. Having only occasionally risen from the bench in the first hour, he allowed himself a clenching of the fists and a bit of a shout, but nothing more extravagant.
It was more Eriksson than Ferguson, and certainly owed nothing to Stuart Pearce's style of technical direction. "I tried to be calm but I don't know if I'll always be that way," he said. "We'll have to wait and see."
Remarkably, this was a Sunderland side who included five new signings - Wallace and Stanislav Varga from Rangers, Kavanagh and David Connolly from Wigan and Miller from Manchester United. Dwight Yorke will join them for Wednesday's trip to Leeds.
In the first half the Wearsiders looked as if they needed more time to become acquainted; in the second they seemed old friends. Keane, not surprisingly, enjoyed his first taste of the job, at least the winning part.
"It is going to take some getting used to, the different preparation, the team talks and watching from the sidelines," he said. "I suppose I enjoyed it because we won."
Sunderland's fans clearly had. After their dreadful flop in the Premiership last season, it had seemed the downward spiral would continue, even after Niall Quinn's boardroom takeover. For now, though, after two straight wins and the arrival of the charismatic Keane, optimism has been restored.Reuse content