Manchester United 1 Sunderland 0: Keane's return is ruined as Saha rises to the occasion
Brave Black Cats beaten but Sunderland manager gives prawn-sandwich brigade food for thought
Roy Keane says he has not been sleeping well, so Triggs the dog could well have been out for a dawn walk again this morning.
Sunderland's fourth successive defeat without scoring a goal was more predictable than the 3-0 Carling Cup hammering by Luton Town, and only came after 72 minutes of dogged resistance; but the Premier League's youngest manager might have wanted his side to put up more of a show on the stamping ground he graced so proudly for 480 matches.
The opportunity certainly existed to have left with a point, even if there was never a serious possibility of taking three, for Manchester United bore little resemblance to champions on the day and needed the introduction of Louis Saha at half-time to inject an attacking threat. It was fitting that on his first appearance since last season's Champions' League semi-final in Milan he should score the winning goal, only United's fourth in the last 10 games.
Until then, they had looked disjointed with an unfamiliar line-up featuring Chris Eagles and Anderson in their first starts of the season as part of an attacking quartet with Nani and Carlos Tevez, though not the injured Ryan Giggs.
Tevez is much happier dropping deep off the main striker and once Saha came on he was able to roam to greater effect. Sir Alex Ferguson was nevertheless relieved to collect a second successive 1-0 victory, admitting that it had been "a long day".
Keane was surprisingly upbeat about a performance in which Sunderland failed to produce a goal attempt worth the name. "I was relatively pleased with the attitude and effort," he said, "though of course we'd have liked to have tested the goalkeeper more. I believed this morning we had a chance of a positive result and we almost got there. I'm more than confident we'll be fine by the end of the season. The reception I got was fantastic but United have always been good to me."
Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce and Steve Coppell have all returned to Old Trafford in charge of Premier League teams and will do so again this season but it is fair to say that none received as rapturous a welcome as Keane's. Never one to bask in adoration, let alone milk it, he walked along the touchline with nothing more than an occasional nod of acknowledgment. He looked more comfortable offering his own applause to a former team-mate Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who took a bow to say sad farewells to the crowd after being forced to retire last week.
As well as Dwight Yorke, Sunderland fielded two other former Old Trafford players in Paul McShane and Danny Higginbotham, the latter recruited from Southampton for £3m, and making a debut, like Kenwyne Jones, who cost double that from the same source.
Not until the 34th minute, when Anderson sent Tevez through in the inside-left position, was Craig Gordon required to make a save but having a proper target man on the pitch once Saha replaced Anderson offered United greater possibilities, as the French striker demonstrated with two outstanding examples of chest control. Wrongly given offside after the first one, he collected another pass from Tevez and swivelled for a shot that Gordon saved superbly, low down and with one outstretched hand.
United were getting closer, though it was painfully hard work. In the 68th minute Gordon needed two grabs at a shot from well outside the penalty area by Owen Hargreaves and three minutes later came a goal. From Nani's inswinging corner on the left, Saha darted in front of his marker Daryl Murphy, just on as a substitute, to head in. "Conceding a goal from set-pieces is always disappointing but the nature of the Premier League is one lapse and you lose," Keane said.