Roy Keane sleeps fitfully, loses his appetite and is a grouchy presence around his wife and five children whenever he loses a match, so his 38th birthday today may not be one of the more joyful occasions in the life of the Championship's most decorated and notorious manager.
In his third competitive match in charge of Ipswich Town, the second of which was a 2-1 victory over Coventry City in April, Keane found the tables turned by a familiar face at the Ricoh Arena. Clinton Morrison, who received "my biggest-ever rollicking" from the then Republic of Ireland captain for giving the ball away in training, scored twice inside 24 minutes and capped an inspirational display by clearing Pim Balkestein's header off the line in the closing stages.
In contrast with Cork's favourite son, the Tooting-born Morrison owed his international career to a granny's birthplace. There was no doubting the pedigree of his finishing yesterday, even though Keane labelled them "poor goals" from Ipswich's perspective.
The first saw Morrison fasten on to a goal-kick by Keiren Westwood and exploit Richard Wright's injudicious dash to the angle of the penalty area with a deft chip that sailed over the back-pedalling Alex Bruce before finding the far corner of the net. For his next trick, the 30-year-old striker stooped to head in a cross by Isaac Osbourne. "When they come in that low," reflected Keane, recalling his take-no-prisoners pomp in the Manchester United midfield, "you take his head off."
Jon Walters' swift, side-footed riposte, following Jon Stead's through-pass, gave Ipswich hope. They duly dominated the second half, but Morrison's 73rd-minute goal-line clearance and Westwood's acrobatic save from a Walters header ensured Keane tasted defeat for the first time since he left Sunderland last December. Would it be a dampener on this morning's celebrations? "My birthday is not that important in the grand scheme of things," he replied with a sardonic smile. "The beauty for me is that we've got another game, at Shrewsbury [in the Carling Cup] on Tuesday night."
Keane had started his final day as a 37-year-old by admitting in a radio interview that "the whole family suffers" when his team are beaten. "I only get a couple of hours' sleep and the appetite goes for a few days, whereas if we win, everything in the garden is rosy," he said. "I've been that way since I was eight or nine years old. Football is my vice."
It is precisely the mentality that persuaded Ipswich's ambitious, yet somewhat secretive, multi-millionaire owner, Marcus Evans, to replace Jim Magilton with Keane before the end of last season. The Irishman believes he can restore Premier League status to the club of Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson – whose memory was honoured with a thunderous minute's applause – and nearly £5m has gone on new players during the summer.
The former Old Trafford reserve Lee Martin hinted at good things to come, but a cheaply constructed Coventry were faster out of the traps and showed resilience in the face of second-half pressure. Chris Coleman, also plying his trade in the Championship after top-flight experience at Fulham, claimed he "couldn't give a monkey's" who was in the opposition dugout but could not disguise his satisfaction.
"All the talk was about Ipswich and Roy Keane – where they'd finish, whether they'd go up automatically or via the play-offs," Coleman said. "They're strong in all departments, with good pace, and we won't come up against many better teams. We've lost two very good young players [Danny Fox to Celtic and Scott Dann to Birmingham] and the recession has affected our targets, but we are financially stable – and that's very important."
Coventry City (4-4-2): Westwood; Osbourne, S Wright, Turner, Van Aanholt; Bell (Clarke, 63), Gunnarsson, Clingan, McIndoe (Ward, 82); Morrison, Best (Eastwood, 62). Substitutes not used: Konstantopoulos (gk), Cain, Grandison, Jeffers.
Ipswich Town (4-5-1): R Wright; Bruce, Balkestein, McAuley, Delaney; Walters, Norris (Garvan, 56), Peters (Priskin, 67), Trotter, Martin; Stead (Wickham, 67). Substitutes not used: Supple (gk), D Wright, Colbeck, Smith.
Referee: J Booth (Nottinghamshire).
Man of the match: Morrison.