With all the talk last week of players' lack of respect for referees, it was a chance for newspapers and broadcasters to dig out some classic images of Roy Keane, veins bulging in his head, leading a posse of Manchester United players as they harangued a hapless official. It was hard to reconcile that vision with the sight of the softly spoken manager, grey hair seeping through his black beard, as he reflected on his Sunderland team's first away victory of the season at Villa Park on Saturday.
What did he feel, for example, about the incident in the first half when Scott Carson, the Aston Villa goalkeeper, clearly handled the ball outside his penalty area? "The referee made his call – no problem. I always look at it the other way round. I would have been disappointed if it had been given against us. I've no problem with the decision, though if we'd drawn or lost I might have given a different answer." The latter comment seemed to be made with tongue firmly in cheek.
One of the most impressive aspects of Keane's management has been his refusal to be carried away by a single result or performance. His team have flirted with relegation all season, yet Keane has retained belief in his players and his own management.
That quality was not going to desert the Irishman after his team doubled their tally of points from their 16 away matches thanks to their first goal outside the Stadium of Light for three months. Asked how hard it would be to stay level-headed after this, Keane replied: "Very easy. We've won one away from home. If that's something to get carried away with, we're all in trouble.
Sunderland were worthy winners, even if they had to wait until seven minutes from time for Michael Chopra's goal, the substitute racing on to Kieran Richardson's through-ball before beating Carson.
The team showed the measured calm and assurance of their manager: with Andy Reid dictating play in midfield, Sunderland created a succession of half-chances, only to be let down by a lack of confidence in front of goal. Villa were poor and did not look like a team who have been in the thick of the chase for European football. Ashley Young and Gabriel Agbonlahor played as if their season has already gone on too long and provided poor support for John Carew. "Our overall play was disappointing and it is my responsibility," said their manager, Martin O'Neill.
Sunderland's players were denied the easy option of hitting long balls to their big target man, Kenwyne Jones, absent with a virus, and instead played a patient passing game. "We played some decent stuff," Keane said. When it was suggested that he would be happy to see his team "win ugly" for the rest of the season if it meant survival, Keane replied: "I didn't think we won ugly today. I thought it was beautiful."
Goal: Chopra (83) 0-1.
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Carson; Gardner, Knight, Laursen, Bouma; Young, Reo-Coker (Harewood, 57), Barry, Maloney (Osbourne, 74); Agbonlahor, Carew. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Salifou, Petrov.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Gordon; Bardsley, Nosworthy, Evans, Collins; Edwards (Leadbitter, 67), Whitehead, Reid, Richardson; O'Donovan (Chopra, 59), Murphy (Yorke, 87). Substitutes not used: Fulop (gk), Prica.
Referee: H Webb (South Yorkshire).
Booked: Sunderland Bardsley, O'Donovan.
Man of the match: Reid.
For Capello's notebook
Gareth Barry The captain led Villa by example, driving his team forward and constantly trying to bring his wide men into play. Ashley Young, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Scott Carson (injured) all failed to make Capello's final cut and their performances were less than impressive on Saturday.Reuse content