Like broon ale, big ships and bare chests on brass-monkey nights, messianic managers are a speciality of the North-east of England. Kevin Keegan's arrival at Newcastle is the textbook example, and few would bet against Alan Shearer donning the mantle sooner rather than later. Robbie Elliott, who shared in the transformation of the Toon, already sees the "mad-eyed" Roy Keane creating a comparable impact at Sunderland.
Elliott, 32, was released by Newcastle in May after 12 seasons spread over two spells. Following a trial with Leeds, where the "Keano" road show will roll in on Wednesday along with 5,000 Sunderland fans, the former England Under-21 defender pitched up at the Stadium of Light. On the evidence of the rookie manager's first 10 days, capped by a deserved win at Derby, he detected "massive similarities" with Keegan's second coming on Tyneside.
"Roy Keane is also an unknown quantity in management," Elliott said. "But we were in awe of Kevin and it's like that in our dressing-room. The buzz the manager has brought to the city is the same, as you could tell by the immense support we brought to Derby. He has lifted the club and we're on the crest of a wave."
There is one vital difference in Sunderland's favour. Keegan took over Newcastle for the final third of the 1991-92 campaign and had to steer them clear of relegation to the old Third Division before taking the title a year later. The timing of Keane's appointment has given the former Manchester United warhorse sufficient time to put his stamp on a side who were floundering under Niall Quinn's stewardship.
"It would be fantastic to go where Newcastle did," Elliott said. "You'd like to think we have got the management in early enough that there's no reason why we can't push up. But we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves."
For 45 minutes, Sunderland struggled to integrate five transfer deadline-day signings. Keane, oozing authority in a dark suit (albeit with dubious brown shoes), remained almost inert on the bench as Matt Oakley volleyed Derby into a half-time lead.
In the second half, as Graham Kavanagh initiated the dramatic increase in tempo that conjured goals in rapid succession by Chris Brown and Ross Wallace, Keane was far more animated. Suddenly he was waving a fist seconds before the equaliser, then rollicking Rory Delap for losing possession, and shouting, à la Alex Ferguson, "Where d'you get that from?" when the fourth official signalled five minutes added time.
One imagined there had been blood on the changing-room walls during the break. Not so, explained Elliott. "His pre-match talk had a bit about Derby but mainly on ourselves, what a good side we are and the individual jobs we needed to do.
"Half-time was different. He reacted to how the game had gone and told us to believe in ourselves, trust each other, keep passing and working because it was there for the winning. It was calm, collected, to the point. There were no teacups flying about.
"I played against him and he wasn't a nice man - a fantastic player but a nasty piece of work. But I think you'll find he's a changed man and if we keep playing like that he'll be a happy one. He has always been a winner. Even in training, you see the mad eyes come out when he gives the ball away. He still has those all right. They're never going. But the lads have taken to him straight away. He obviously has a vast knowledge of football, so everyone listens when he talks."
Keane's opposite number, Billy Davies, felt Sunderland had the squad, fan base and manager to be "up there at the finish". Derby are in the relegation zone, a far cry from the Scot's play-off runs with Preston, yet his parting shot was as pertinent to the Stadium of Light as to Pride Park. "Nothing's won or lost in September," he said. "We'll look at the League table in January and look to build from there."
Goals: Oakley (45) 1-0; Brown (62) 1-1; Wallace (64) 1-2.
Derby County (4-3-2-1): Bywater; Edworthy (Bolder, 88), Leacock, M Johnson, Camara; Lupoli, Oakley, Barnes; Peschisolido (S Johnson, 57), Smith; Howard. Substitutes not used: Grant (gk), Malcolm, Nyatanga.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Alnwick; Delap, Varga, Cunningham, R Elliott; L Miller, Whitehead, Kavanagh, Wallace; Connolly (S Elliott, 84), Brown. Substitutes not used: Ward (gk), Hysen, Leadbitter, N Collins.
Referee: A Bates (Staffordshire).
Booked: Derby Edworthy; Sunderland Varga, Brown, Wallace, Delap, Kavanagh.
Man of the match: Kavanagh.
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