Roy Keane never allowed himself to be overpowered during his playing career. He would roll up his sleeves and enter into toe-to-toe combat with anyone, but he was rather like a father powerless to prevent his young son from receiving a good-hiding from the school bully at Stoke's Britannia Stadium.
Last season the Sunderland manager was often heard complaining that his side was rather like a box of Roses chocolates, with too many soft centres. Until arriving at one of the Premier League's most inhospitable grounds last night, he thought he had discovered a solution to that problem, but some familiar flaws contributed to their downfall to Tony Pulis' streetfighters.
The euphoria of Saturday's first victory over Newcastle at home for 28 years was followed by, in Keane's view, Sunderland's worst performance of the season so far. Their lack of ability to "pass the ball" was more disappointing for the Irishman than the fact that his side capitulated to Ricardo Fuller's fourth goal of the season, engineered from the familiar route of Rory Delap's outrageously long throw-in.
"We never performed and when you don't perform, you don't deserve anything," was Keane's parting shot, which was as many and more venomous than the solitary effort substitute Kenwyne Jones managed five minutes from time. With the benefit of hindsight, Keane wished he had made more changes to personnel. There are likely to be several for the encounter with Chelsea on Saturday, with the Trinidad & Tobago striker likely to get his first start, five months since injuring knee ligaments.
If Keane was far from impressed, Tony Pulis believed this was his side's best 90 minutes of the season. This was their third home win to account for nine of the 10 points they have collected towards their 40-point safety target.
Stoke are highly unlikely to win many friends with their brand of football. If Keane never fully utilised the power of Delap's wonderful weapon because it did not fit his style of play, Pulis has virtually built his team around it to have his touchline missiles and as for criticism of Stoke's style, he remains unbowed. "By hook, or by crook, we have to score goals. If we get goals from long throw-ins, so be it."
Why should Pulis care. He is hardly operating on a level playing field. In the last three games he has faced Pavlyuchenko, Robinho and now Djibril Cissé. Next up is Emmanuel Adebayor, Robin van Persie and Arsenal. The calibre levels get higher, but Stoke care little for reputations. Just ask Juande Ramos, Martin O'Neill and Keane.
Goal: Fuller (73) 1-0.
Stoke: (4-4-2) Sorensen; Griffin, Abdoulaye Faye, Shawcross, Higginbotham; Soares (Tonge, 74), Olofinjana, Diao, Delap; Sidibe, Fuller (Kitson, 90). Substitues not used: Simonsen (gk), Pericard, Amdy Faye, Wilkinson, Sonko.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Fulop; Bardsley, Ferdinand, Collins, McCartney; Malbranque (Reid, 74), Whitehead, Yorke (Jones, 46), Richardson; Diouf, Cissé (Chopra, 67). Substitutes not used: Colgan (gk), Tainio, Nosworthy, Leadbitter.
Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).
Booked: Sunderland Diouf.
Man of the match: Fuller.
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