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Lack of quality costs Keane at the Bridge

Chelsea 2 - 0 Sunderland

Roy Keane could have laid claim to the title of the true Special One after his first twelve months as a football manager.

During that time, the manager who had given himself such a lofty title was clinging on to power charge at Chelsea, yet Keane would never propel himself in such a light as he has proved himself to be the ultimate master of the understatement during his time as Sunderland boss.

The transition from a great player to successful coach has rarely occurred at a more rapid pace than Keane inspired at the Stadium of Light last season, with his achievement in leading the Black Cats from the bottom of the Championship table to the title a fine addition to his CV whatever happens in the future.

When he started the Premier League season with a home win against Tottenham, Sunderland fans dared to dream that Champions League football was on the horizon for the manager who could do no wrong. The good times were back at Sunderland and just for once, they were not a fleeting fantasy.

However, reality has kicked in for those supporters since the halcyon days of August as the relegation battle Keane must have anticipated is starting to come to pass. The man himself describes this season as a 'roller coaster ride' and his nerves were never likely to be eased by a trip to Stamford Bridge.

After losing their last away game 7-1 at Everton, Keane must have wondered what lay in wait as he prepared to square up to the fallen Premier League champions, yet his heart would have been warmed by the sight of a team sheet without the prolific Didier Drogba at its heart.

Indeed, the Ivory Coast forward is likely to be out for a few weeks after he underwent knee surgery on Saturday morning, which may just rule him out of the African Nations Cup in Ghana next month. Could it be that he might play for games for Chelsea by having the operation now rather than waiting a few weeks? Only a cynic would suggest such a plot.

Drogba's absence meant a rare start for Andriy Shevchenko and he made the most of his opportunity to open the scoring mid-way through the first half. Keane would not have been impressed by the space Salomon Kalou was given to deliver a cross that was met by a simple finish from the unmarked Ukrainian on the back post.

Such naive defending has been a hallmark of Sunderland's play of late and while Keane has toned down his 'Mr Angry' demeanour as he attempts to lead by example, he is still not the type of guy you would fancy crossing.

You need to come face to face with the Keano beast to fully appreciate the chilling qualities that have struck fear into many a football hardman down the years and I had the good fortune to experience the Keano stare first hand at Stamford Bridge.

While quietly enjoying a pre-match cup of coffee, I looked up to be confronted by a hurried Keane who was clearly desperate to make his way out of the press room and onto the side of the pitch with as much haste as possible.

Maybe he was lost and was on the brink of throwing one of his famed temper tantrums, but I wasn't about to hang around to find out. After he afforded me a knowing glance, the sensible thing to do was open the door he was headed towards and feel thankful that we had not met in a dark alley.

In truth, the myth of Keane the assassin has been shattered somewhat during an 18-month stint as Sunderland manager that has stunned even his harshest critic. Some who have followed this former Manchester United hero predicted his move into coaching would result in carnage untold for the players under his control and anyone who dared to get in his way.

Yet Keane the manager has been transformed into a mellow cautious individual who has find a softer side even he didn't know about. Turning up for press conferences and doing his management duties with professionalism, he is one of the brightest young managers in the game.

He is never likely to smile too much and even when he does it sends a shiver down the spine, but it must be hard for this passionate winner to find himself cast in an almost permanent role as underdog. Keane has never been one to accept defeat easily, but he will have to get used to it for the rest of this Premier League season.

With the rain teeming down in the second half, the game struggled to find any kind of rhythm and excitement was in short supply from the team who like to claim they are exciting entertainers since they freed themselves from the shackles of Jose Mourinho.

This was a Chelsea match of old as they ground out a result and replaced entertainment with efficiency, with their failure to kill off a Sunderland side who were waiting to be beaten giving the visitors some hope. In reality, they never had any after conceding the first goal as Keane was left to contemplate yet another defeat.

''There are three divisions within the Premier League and we are clearly in the bottom one,' stated the Ireland legend. 'We will be in a scrap to save our lives for the rest of the season and I don't need to be told that.

'I suppose you can say this performance was better than our last away game at Everton, but if you can't improve on letting I seven you have no hope. The goals we gave away in this game were poor again and we have to improve.

'It's alright saying let's go out and spend some money when the transfer window opens in January, but getting players into Sunderland will be no easy task. Still, we are clearly short on quality and have to do something about it.

There are a bunch of teams around us at the bottom and we have to get up our points against them.
Roy Keane
'All I can say is our results against sides like Chelsea will not decide how we get on this season. There are a bunch of teams around us at the bottom and we have to get up our points against them.'

Even though this will go down as a comfortable Chelsea win, any suggestion that the absence of Mourinho has loosened their shackles to the point where they have become entertainers was lost on the majority of a sell-out crowd who were bored for long periods.

On a day when many were preparing for a late night watching Ricky Hatton's world title fight from Las Vegas, this game was an opportunity to catch a quick nap, yet Grant seemed satisfied.

'What do you call entertainment,' questioned the Chelsea boss when asked about the lack of thrills in the game. 'We passed well against a side who came to defend and won the game comfortably.

'We have been winning games every week without our key players and now we will have to do without Didier Drogba for a few weeks after his knee operation. Still, as long as we keep winning, no one will complain.' Everyone was entitled to complain after one of the more boring afternoons of football you will witness. The Premier League's reputation as the greatest league in the world was not built around bores like this.

• MAN OF THE MATCH: Frank Lampard

On a day when few of the stars on show sparkled, Lampard remained at the heart of everything positive about Chelsea. His set-piece delivery gave Sunderland plenty of trouble.

• FOOD WATCH: The chicken casserole was a culinary delight as the Chelsea catering team came up trumps yet again.

• LOST CAUSE: My tube journey to Stamford Bridge was marred by the presence of a bunch of racist thugs who insulted everyone other than Londoners and still seemed keen to fight a war in Northern Ireland. A tragic lack of intelligence has clearly stopped them from following the political progress of the last decade.

• VERDICT: All Roy Keane wants for Christmas is a team who are capable of competing at Premier League level and on this evidence, not even Santa Claus can bail him out of trouble. Games like this will not decide their fate, but their lack of quality was alarming against a sleepy Chelsea side.

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