Keane v Ferguson, part II

MARCH 4, 1995. Ipswich Town, in the early stages of an eight-match losing streak that will end in emphatic relegation, suffer a Premier League record 9-0 defeat at Manchester United. Andy Cole scores five, but it’s the man who gets the first, trundled in from the edge of the penalty area, who will go on to have a longer-term say in the Portman Road story.

December 11, 2010. Roy Keane is sitting in a brightly-lit press room at Deepdale, having just overseen Ipswich’s sixth successive league defeat. It’s his worst run of league form as a manager, and the team’s worst since that dark spring of 1995. “You wouldn’t believe how much it’s hurting,” he says. “But you can try to guess.”

A 1-0 defeat at Preston, the Championship’s bottom club, follows league defeats against Derby, Barnsley, Hull, Norwich and Swansea. Ipswich may have reached the Carling Cup semi-finals, but they have lost nine league games out of 11 too, dropping from fifth in early October to 18th. Keane acknowledges it’s not good enough, but it’s still a brave journalist who will ask him directly about his future.

Journalist: How do you keep your resilience?
Keane: Good question that. Sometimes you don’t.

Journalist: Do you have a mentor?
Keane: No. I should get one.

Journalist: Are you still absolutely determined to turn it round?
Keane: Yep.

Journalist: And you still believe you’ll be given the time to do that?
Keane: I didn’t say that. That’s out of my hands. Don’t ask me questions about things I’ve got no control over (. . .) But nine defeats in 11 is not acceptable. The run we’re on is not acceptable.

Journalist: Is it fair to say that, given the choice, you would like to see the job through?
Keane: Yeah.

There is, perhaps, a contrived symmetry to be drawn from Keane’s current woes. In 2005, his 12-year stay at Manchester United was brought to an abrupt end as a result of his growing estrangement from Sir Alex Ferguson. Five years later, Keane’s managerial career appears to be on the brink following a defeat at the hands of Preston, managed by Ferguson’s son Darren.

Sir Alex, with a Saturday off, was watching from the Deepdale stands today. Keane v Ferguson, it seems, rarely ends in favour of the man from Cork. Indeed, as a manager, he has lost every single one of his games against Sir Alex or Darren.

The former United captain’s managerial career has hit big trouble just as he is preparing to sever his final links with the Manchester area. He and his wife Theresa have just put their seven-bedroom mansion in Hale on the market for £9.5million, as they are hardly ever there now.

“I’m selling my house because I don’t need two houses,” Keane said on Thursday. “It means nothing. I don’t think I’m going to keep my job just because I bought a house, do I?”

Keane and Ferguson junior, both midfielders, were team-mates only briefly at Old Trafford. Darren’s departure to Wolves in January 1994 came a few months after Sir Alex had paid Nottingham Forest £3.75million for Keane.

According to the Rothmans Football Yearbook, they only played together once, a 1-1 draw at home to Blackburn on Boxing Day 1993, Darren’s last game for United. “It was the final straw for me when my old man brought him in,” Darren joked.

There has been speculation of late as to whether either manager will last the season at their respective clubs. For all the focus on Keane, it’s Ferguson’s Preston who in the greatest relegation danger, even after they ended a seven-match winless streak today.

While Keane recently turned to a sports psychologist to try to help his players find their form (it worked for him during a rough spell at Sunderland in early 2008), Ferguson turned to his father for help of a more prosaic nature.

Preston’s training ground was frozen over last week, so Sir Alex gave the club permission to use United’s Carrington base, which has undersoil heating. Maybe spending a bit of time sharing facilities with Wayne Rooney and Co inspired North End’s players.

But it took them a while to get going today. Ipswich were better for the first half-an-hour, with Jason Scotland whizzing a shot just wide on the turn, and the lively Rory Fallon, brought in from Plymouth, twice forcing good saves from Andy Lonergan.

At that stage, North End were incapable of stringing together anything resembling a coherent move. Had home full-back Billy Jones’ header from a Danny Pugh corner dropped under the bar rather than bouncing off it, then it would had been a goal against the run of play.

Preston, though, have been looking more solid of late, and were very unlucky not to win at promotion hopefuls Cardiff last weekend. Five minutes into the second half, they took the lead, with Jon Parkin getting down the right and crossing low for Iain Hume to slide the ball home.

It was the fourth goal of Hume’s three-month stay at Preston on loan from Barnsley. That loan expired after today’s game, but Ferguson is determined to get him back at Deepdale permanently when the transfer window opens in January.

Preston might have had more goals – Parkin, Adam Barton and Michael Tonge failed to take decent chances. That they kept a clean sheet was down to the outstanding form of their two centre-backs, Wayne Brown and Leon Cort.

There is, perhaps, a certain irony in the fact that Brown, who left Leicester City in rather a hurry over the summer after admitting to voting BNP at the last General Election, is forming such an effective partnership with on-loan Burnley defender Cort, who is black. Perhaps in addition to keeping clean sheets, North End’s defence is causing Nick Griffin plenty of grief too. One can only hope.

Preston remain bottom of the Championship because of Middlesbrough’s victory over Cardiff. But after a very tricky autumn, there’s hope again at Deepdale.

There doesn’t seem to be much hope for Keane at the moment – and keen students of his facial hair may wish to note that he is sporting the beginnings of a beard again. But Ferguson junior is sure that Roy will pull through, whatever the future holds.

“I don’t have to worry about Roy,” said the Preston manager. “He’s a very, very strong character is Roy Keane. I’m sure he’ll be fine.”

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