Considering that in just four months in charge of Sunderland he has tasted defeat three times at the hands of Preston North End, Roy Keane was in remarkably good humour after the FA Cup defeat on Saturday. But the Manchester United legend is not your average manager. His restrained, softly spoken manner is at odds with his frank assessments and the suggestion of something darker lurking below the surface. Were his side unlucky to be knocked out?
"No, that's the beauty of the FA Cup - you only get one chance." Did you deserve at least a draw? "Yes, but that's football - it can be a cruel game." What was your view on Liam Miller's red card? "No complaints. But Liam doesn't need me to come down hard with him. And anyway, he's only 11 red cards behind me so I can't be too critical." Finally, he was asked about potential transfer activity. "If I told you I would have to kill you," he said, with a smile.
Actually, Keane had every reason to be proud of his team, particularly when they had to play with 10 men in the second half. Preston's goal arrived after half an hour, when Miller was caught in possession as the deepest-lying member of Sunderland's midfield. Callum Davidson provided the through ball and Brett Ormerod did the rest.
Within five minutes, Miller had been sent off. If the Irishman's first booking for a foul was slightly harsh, there was little doubt about the second, when he manhandled David Nugent.
Sunderland seemed beaten then but went on to dominate, with David Connolly almost forcing a replay at the death when his deflected shot screwed the wrong side of the post. It was a point acknowledged by Paul Simpson, the Preston manager, whose side remain well placed to reach the Championship play-offs for the third consecutive season. "Sunderland pushed us all the way," he said. "They probably feel they should have got at least a draw. But they have improved with each game we have played against them and Roy is assembling a squad that will be the envy of every other club in the Championship."
For all that, Preston will tune into today's fourth-round draw while Sunderland concentrate on "19 cup finals" in the League. As for the FA Cup? "Next year," Keane said. "Next year."
Goal: Ormerod (31) 1-0.
Preston North End (4-4-2): Nash; Alexander, Wilson, Chilvers, Hill (Whaley, 56); Sedgwick (Neal, 72), McKenna, Davidson, Pugh; Ormerod (Anyinsah, 79), Nugent. Substitutes not used: Lonergan (gk), McGrail.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Ward; Whitehead, Varga, Evans, Wallace; Elliott, Leadbetter (Collins, 77), Miller, Hysen (Yorke, 39); Connolly, Murphy (Edwards, 61). Substitutes not used: Fulop (gk), Clarke.
Referee: I Williamson (Berkshire).
Booked: Preston Pugh, Nugent. Sunderland Varga.
Sent off: Miller (35).
Man of the match: Connolly.
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