Sunderland 3 Middlesbrough 2: Murphy keeps Sunderland up while Boro fret

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The Independent Football

By Simon Rushworth at the Stadium of Light

When Roy Keane spoke of "the master plan" in the immediate aftermath of this significant victory against Sunderland's local rivals, Middlesbrough, it was impossible to miss the glint in his eye and the determination in his tone.

Having secured his club's top flight status, the ambitious Irishman is not about to rest easy. For Keane the future is all that matters and, with one year remaining on his contract, time is of the essence.

It seems highly probable that Sunderland's board will commit their ambitious coach to a longer-term deal this summer but, for now, the Cork-born Keane is working within the terms of his existing agreement.

"Staying in the Premier League is all part of the master plan," explained Keane, his cool confidence sounding a chilling warning to Sunderland's rivals that the Wearsiders really do mean business at the highest level.

"My first year was all about winning promotion and this time it was important that we stayed up. I've got another year left and that time will be spent improving the squad and hopefully finishing in a higher position next season," said the former Manchester United midfielder.

For Keane there is no point celebrating survival as such. As a player used to success at the highest level this was a hollow victory and in his mind the feat of avoiding relegation barely ranks alongside League medals and Champions' League glory. "It's progress but it's not perfection," he added pointedly, after the substitute Daryl Murphy clinched all three points with a header deep into added time.

"I'm just glad it's over with and I know my wife and kids will be. Nobody has made as many mistakes as me this season and I have to learn from that.

"Has this season aged me? I don't know. I managed four hours' sleep this week which improves my average. As a manager you've got to deal with the tension, the drama, the media and the outside issues which surround every Premier League football club. But I've taken that on board and I've never been afraid to learn from my mistakes."

One of Keane's errors has been a belief that his players hang on to his every word. "I always tell them to start games strongly but it never happens," he added.

For the second week running the Black Cats fell behind to a fourth minute goal as the Middlesbrough forward, Tuncay Sanli, capitalised on Danny Higginbotham's lax defending. However, the experienced defender atoned for his lack of concentration by equalising within 90 seconds.

The Sunderland forward, Michael Chopra – whose many tussles with Middlesbrough's David Wheater was one of the highlights of this exciting derby – capped an impressive performance with a cool finish on the stroke of half-time.

Afonso Alves made it two goals apiece 17 minutes from time. Murphy's winner should have been expected as the masters of the last-gasp victory struck again.

"The match was a perfect snapshot of our season," added Keane. "We started poorly, fought our way back into contention and showed the spirit to score another late goal.

Without that spirit we would have been cut adrift with Derby this season. There's no doubt about that."

For the Middlesbrough manager, Gareth Southgate, the agony goes on. Successive defeats to Bolton Wanderers and Sunderland mean mathematical safety is not yet assured . But he insisted: "We will be strong. Listening to Sunderland celebrate that victory was hard to take and it hurts. But we just have to hope that next week it will be us."

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