Keane's tunnel vision goes cruelly unrewarded

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The Romance of the FA Cup? Roy Keane had any notion of such a thing knocked out of him in his early playing days at Nottingham Forest. En route to the final back in 1991, he dropped a clanger that led to the requirement of a second replay against Crystal Palace. As soon as he stepped off the pitch, Brian Clough floored him with a punch.

The Romance of the FA Cup? Roy Keane had any notion of such a thing knocked out of him in his early playing days at Nottingham Forest. En route to the final back in 1991, he dropped a clanger that led to the requirement of a second replay against Crystal Palace. As soon as he stepped off the pitch, Brian Clough floored him with a punch.

The blow could hardly have been any painful than the one delivered by Patrick Vieira after 120 minutes of open play and nine-tenths of a penalty shoot-out at the Millennium Stadium yesterday. With one decisive swing of his right foot, the Arsenal captain delivered the cruellest of knock-out blows to Manchester United and right into the metaphorical solar plexus of their captain.

After all of the pre-match build-up - enough hype to keep a Don King haircut standing on end - the fight for possession of the FA Cup came down to a duel between the combatants from the Battle of the Highbury Tunnel. It was an unfair contest in every respect.

Manchester United had enjoyed the better of a game in which the Invincibles of 12 months ago played like the Vulnerables of 2005. Keane had enjoyed much the better of his scrap with Vieira for the dominance of central midfield. Then there was the small matter of the 4-3 advantage Arsenal enjoyed, courtesy of Jens Lehmann's save from Paul Scholes, before Keane stepped forward to keep United's lingering hopes fleetingly alive with his conversion from the spot.

It merely prolonged the agony. As Vieira's kick evaded Roy Carroll's despairing clutches, Keane turned to his fellow penalty-takers and thanked every one of them. Then, with the ecstatic Vieira buried under a mountain of Arsenal bodies, the losing captain walked to the touchline and thanked the rest of the United players for their efforts in an ultimately doomed cause.

When he stepped forward to collect his losers' medal, Sebastian Coe's acceptance of 800m silver at the Moscow Olympics came to mind; "It was as though he was receiving a turd," Clive James memorably observed. Keane may not have confessed to getting excited about the prospect of himself and Ryan Giggs becoming the first players to collect a fifth FA Cup winners' medal since Lord Kinnaird, Charles Wollaston and Jimmy Forrest in the 19th Century but the consolation prize could have been a turd or a Crackerjack pencil for all he cared.

It was not what he deserved and - unlike Coe, who proceeded to turn the tables on Steve Ovett in the 1500m in Moscow - he will have to wait for a chance of revenge against his arch foe.

Thankfully for all concerned, there was no repeat of the pre-match hostilities between Keane and Vieira at Highbury in February. The familiar keen-eyed stare was there, but no verbals and no menacing eyeballing. Keane maintained impeccable tunnel vision, even managing a civil if perfunctory shake of hands with Vieira before kick-off. After all of the hype, it was a bit of an anti-climax. Nobody quite expected a game of football to break-out without the slightest whiff of pre-match aggravation.

Keane said last week that he expected the contest to be "pretty explosive" but there was not so much as a sparkler's worth of pyrotechnics between the two captains. In fact, with Vieira starting on the left of Arsenal's central midfield trio and Keane deep in his anchor role, they rarely came into direct contact.

The contest within the contest, if it could be described as such, was just about even until half-time. Keane made a less than assured start, feeding stray passes to Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp, and he looked like he might not make it to the interval after a crudely mistimed tackle on Cesc Fabregas left him clutching what Brian Moore - the commentator, not the author - used to refer to as "the bread basket". He was still hobbling when he vented his frustration with a tackle from behind on Bergkamp. It earned him a yellow card.

Still, Keane is nothing if not a fighter. By half-time he had moved off the ropes and was punching his weight as United got on top. At 33, he might not the indefatigable midfield dynamo he once was, but the son of Cobh remains a vital cog for United. Any doubt on that score was removed as he drove them forward after the interval. He might even have scored the winner, had he not directed a shot into a forest of Arsenal legs five minutes before the advent of extra time.

All the while, Vieira was a figure of increasing anonymity. Until it mattered most. When it came to the penalty shoot-out, the captain of the Gunners fired the winning bullet.

Comments