With pressure rising on Wearside following last Saturday's FA Cup débâcle against Wigan Athletic, and with his management style coming under scrutiny for the first time, Roy Keane acknowledged yesterday that Sunderland need a win at home to Portsmouth tomorrow to "get people back on side". Keane was talking of Sunderland fans, though internally he repeated that "being popular is not what I'm in the game for".
Keane has just had arguably his most difficult week in his 18 months as a manager. There have as yet been no new signings post-Wigan and one target, Robbie Savage, joined Derby County instead. There has been the criticism of Keane from fringe player Clive Clarke and a broad sense that the Sunderland public requires convincing that this team possess the qualities to stay up.
"We have lost a hell of a lot of games and our supporters have been quite patient," Keane said. "But we used a lot of that up last weekend. We have been OK at home, so last week caught us a bit and we owe them a performance on Sunday, no doubt about that.
"I suppose it's one of my first real tests. We had disappointments, like the Luton game, obviously Everton and Manchester United at home. But I do believe we will see the real Sunderland. At home we have played with energy, spirit and quality but we didn't have any of that last week."
Keane is still trying to buy the Portsmouth midfielder Matthew Taylor – and Reading's Stephen Hunt – but no new signing is anticipated before early next week. "We are not just going to keep throwing money after money just to try and satisfy certain people out there," he said. "We've got to do the right thing for the club and bring in the right player with the right character."
One criticism of Keane is of his other purchases and there is recognition that Greg Halford, bought for £2.5m from Reading in the summer, has not worked out. He is up for sale, as are Ross Wallace, David Connolly, Graham Kavanagh and Ian Harte, all brought to the club by Keane. Stephen Wright, who was bought by Peter Reid, is another for whom Sunderland will accept offers.