Sunderland 1 Derby County 0: Keane finds cause for optimism after Stokes fires Sunderland

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The Independent Football

Stressed but impressed, these two young managers, Paul Jewell and Roy Keane, stared at their respective dressing rooms after an anxious 90 minutes had climaxed a long and eventful week for both Derby County and Sunderland, and found consolation. For Jewell it came in the form of anger; for Keane it came in a show of unity.

In terms of drama, Sunderland's dressing room probably shaded it. Keane had made some of his biggest decisions as a manager on Saturday, dropping 9m record-signing Craig Gordon to the bench and Dwight Yorke to the stands. That is what losing 7-1 the week before does.

But after Anthony Stokes had belted in another of those injury-time winners that have decorated Sunderland's 2007, Keane said that Yorke and Gordon joined in a celebration that spoke loudly of what Stokes's first Premier League goal meant.

"It was a big call on team selection, which didn't please some players as you'd expect," Keane said, "but it's a happy dressing room and the lads who were left out were there, Yorkey, Dickson Etuhu. You need to enjoy it together and be happy for everyone else."

Keane said he did not experience "relief" at Stokes's goal but, if so, he was the only one of Sunderland's 42,000 who did not. The loss at Goodison Park was part of a non-winning sequence of eight games stretching back to mid-September. Sunderland had slipped into the bottom three after Everton and but for Stokes' strike that is where they would remain.

But this is a tight mini-league where, before yesterday, eight points separated twelfth-placed Reading and bottom club Derby.

On succeeding Billy Davies on Wednesday, Jewell said that this could be the lowest recent total of points required to stay up, so condensed is the fight, and the evidence of his argument could be seen in Sunderland's jump to 14th.

It was only their third victory of the season, but Keane noted that Fulham won just eight matches last season and survived. If really searching for inspiration, he could have gone back a further two seasons when West Brom won six and beat the drop with 34 points.

That may suffice again, which means Derby have 23 games to get 28 points. In Jewell, Derby have a man who knows how to get there, though as he said: "It's a different challenge, at other places I have been there at the start of the season.

"I have taken over a group who have got used to losing and I have to change that. The players are down, obviously, but I have also seen a bit of a reaction from some of them, a bit angry, which is what we want."

Derby did not deserve to lose this game. They did because of Stokes. Only 19, he arrived for 2m in January with a large reputation.

While Keane took pleasure in his winner, he also delivered a warning: "He's a young man who can go as far as he wants. He could be a top, top player or he could be playing non-League in four years' time."

Avoiding pitfalls is key, said Keane. Any in particular? "The Glass Spider [bar] in Sunderland."

Goal: Stokes (90) 1-0

Sunderland (4-4-2): Ward; Halford, McShane, Higginbotham, Collins; Edwards (Stokes, 78), Whitehead, Leadbitter (Miller, 84), Wallace; Cole (Chopra, 64), Jones. Substitutes not used: Gordon, Harte

Derby County (4-4-2) Bywater; Griffin, Moore, Davis, McEveley; Teale (Leacock, 84), Pearson, Oakley, Barnes (Fagan, 71); Miller (Earnshaw, 86), Howard. Substitutes not used: Price, Mears

Booked: Sunderland Stokes Derby McEveley

Attendance: 42,380

Referee: M. Halsey

Man of the match: Oakley