Derby County 0 Sunderland 0: Keane relishes the challenge of relegation dogfight

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The Independent Online

Fearless man that he is, Roy Keane has no second thoughts about taking issue with Sir Alex Ferguson, even over matters in which the Manchester United manager is seen as the authority, such as "squeaky bum time".

Sir Alex's earthily apposite description of the nervous end of a football season is one that strikes a chord with the Sunderland manager, particularly now that only two points separate his team from the relegation zone. He would argue, moreover, that when you are at the bottom – in a league table sense – it is an even squeakier time.

"It is for us, even more so," he said as he reflected on a point won that was less than adequate, even though it spared him a club record run of 11 consecutive away defeats. "At least, if you are challenging near the top, a manager can relax a little bit more.

"If you are going for titles it is generally because you have got unbelievable quality in your squad. At the bottom, you desperately hope that the one or two special players you might have will pull something out of the bag. The teams near the top, they have seven or eight who can do that."

Yet Keane, even faced with what he feels is the toughest run-in of all the relegation candidates, including meetings with Everton, Chelsea, Aston Villa and Arsenal, appreciates the value of the experience.

"I know where I would rather be but this is the challenge I took" he said. "This is the best learning experience you can get – you can't buy this on courses. It is the best place to be, right in the middle of it, and I wouldn't swap where I am now for anywhere else."

Paul Jewell would swap where he is. "I wish I was in a relegation struggle," he said. "But we are out of the equation and there is more pressure on Sunderland. I'm sure Roy thinks he can get enough points to stay up but it will go right to the wire."

Three points at Pride Park would have been a help. But Michael Chopra had a goal disallowed for offside – wrongly, Keane believes – and Daryl Murphy hit a post in the first half, before Hossam Ghaly's block denied Danny Higginbotham near the end.

At last with a points tally in double figures, Jewell hopes Derby can find six more to better Sunderland's all-time lowest Premier League return. Yet his focus is so fixed on next season he would swallow even that humiliation. "We don't want to end up taking Sunderland's record but if you said to me that we'd get 14 points this season but get promoted next year I'd take it," he said.

Derby County (4-4-2): Carroll; Edworthy, Moore, Stubbs, McEveley; Sterjovski (Fagan, 66), Jones (Ghaly, 57), Pearson, Lewis; Miller (Earnshaw 80), Villa. Substitutes not used: Price (gk), Feilhaber.

Sunderland (4-4-2): Gordon; Bardsley, Nosworthy, Evans, Higginbotham; Chopra, Whitehead, Reid (Leadbitter, 66), Richardson; Jones, Murphy (Stokes, 80). Substitutes not used: Fulop (gk), McShane, Prica.

Referee: M Riley (Yorkshire).

Booked: Derby Miller, McEveley, Lewis, Moore, Villa. Sunderland Chopra.

Man of the match: Murphy.

Attendance: 33,058.

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