By Dermot Clarke
Roy Keane’s value to Manchester United was probably never as well illustrated as in a week that sandwiched a Champions League game between two home league games. The home league games looked on paper to be straightforward enough. Wimbledon and Southampton, two sides that will probably be fighting among the relegation candidates come April next. Six points you would think for the champions, but only two were gained and, although they remain unbeaten, they did not look anything like the championship side of last term.
The explanation is simple — Roy Keane. Manchester United are simply not the same team without him. Because the most difficult encounter of that week was the away game in the Champions League to Sturm Graz of Austria. Keane played and United won 3-0. Keane set the ball rolling with a stunning strike and limped off late in the game. He will probably need surgery on his knee. Bad news for United, could be a disaster for the Republic of Ireland. The absence of Keane in Macedonia could see Ireland out of Euro 2000.
Matthew Le Tissier earned the Saints a point at Old Trafford on Saturday. His two goals canceled out Dwight Yorke’s brace. Teddy Sheringham had equalized a fine individual goal by Marian Pahars, Yorke made it 2-1 before the goalkeeping blunder of the season by United’s new signing Massimo Taibi. A seemingly harmless strike by Le Tissier looked to be well under control, but it crept first between the ‘keeper’s arms and then between his legs before dribbling home. The two traded another one before the end and Southampton went home with a well earned point.
Kanu leads Arsenal
Nwankwo Kanu earned Arsenal yet another 1-0 victory when his 86th-minute goal defeated Watford at Highbury. Chelsea got out of the slump with a 1-0 victory at Middlesbrough. Bernard Lambourde scrambled the ball home after 54 minutes, it wasn’t pretty but it was a win for the Blues. Paul Gascoigne was introduced as a substitute but was sent to the line for aiming a tirade of abuse at a refereeing assistant. Newcomers Sunderland and Bradford were also among the 1-0 winners, beating Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County respectively. Alan Shearer brought his tally to seven in two games when he struck twice at Leeds. Alas for the Geordies, it wasn’t enough to beat David O’Leary’s high-flying youngsters. Leeds moved into second place with goals from Lee Bowyer, Harry Kewell and the winner from Michael Bridges.
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Muzzy Izzet and Tony Cottee were again on the mark for Leicester, who beat Aston Villa 3-1. It was a particularly dismal afternoon for Villa’s Gareth Southgate who scored an own goal and was later sent off. Dion Dublin got the lone reply for villa. John Gregory is said to be showing interest in unsettled Irish midfielder Alan Mahon of Tranmere Rovers. Mahon, the Republic’s most capped under 21 international, is out of contract come the summer, but Rovers are anxious to cash in now rather than risk tribunal. Two million is the asking price apparently.
Coventry City had a welcome 1-0 victory over West Ham United in a week that saw them launch the Sky Blue condom. Yes, the latest item on the Coventry souvenir shop shelves is the male contraceptive and surely it’s only a matter of time before other clubs follow suit. Now I’m not sure of the distinguishing factors, but if the club crest were to be emblazoned on the item well Aston Villa’s would have to be a favorite.
However, if it were just to bear the club name on it I would have to opt for the Wolverhampton Wanderers version myself.
In Scotland the big two both won. Celtic beat Hibs with two goals from Mark Viduka and Rangers kept their three-point lead at the top with a 3-1 victory over St. Johnstone. Jorg Albertz came up with a brace here, the other being scored by the prolific Michael Mols.
Rovers top Sligo
In Ireland, Shamrock Rovers raced into a three-point lead at the top of the League with a facile 4-1 victory over the Rovers from Sligo at Morton Stadium, Santry. Despite losing goalkeeper Tony O’Dowd for handling outside the box, the Hoops still managed to capture the full compliment, much to the disgust of Sligo boss Jim McInally.
"On the evidence of that performance we are not relegation material we are already relegated," he said.
McInally also accused some of his players of not trying and is close it seems to resignation.
The home side’s goals were scored by Colwell, Woods, Cousins, and Crowley, the Sligo consolation going to Gilroy. Paul Byrne and Glen Crowe got Bohemians back on the winning trail with a goal apiece in the 2-1 victory over Galway. Shelbourne and St. Pat’s tied 1-1 on Friday evening. Carl van der Velden had given Shels the lead in the 68th minute, but five minutes later Eddie Gormley equalized for Pat’s.
And, finally, the squad for the game against Macedonia has been announced. Roy Keane and Denis Irwin return, although the Keane situation has yet to be sorted out. Ian Harte has been left out again, but this time it is due to injury. Harte is to enter hospital for knee surgery next week. His Uncle Gary is in the squad and will likely start. The full squad is: A. Kelly (Blackburn), D. Kiely (Charlton), D. Irwin (Man Utd), S. Carr (Spurs), J. Kenna (Blackburn), D. Kiely (Charlton), D. Irwin (Man Utd), S. Carr (Spurs), J. Kenna (Blackburn), S. Staunton (Liverpool), K. Cunningham (Wimbledon), G. Breen (Coventry), P. Babb (Liverpool), R. Keane (Man Utd), M. Kinsella (Charlton), A. McLoughlin (Portsmouth), L. Carsley (Blackburn), G. Kelly (Leeds), D. Duff (Blackburn), M. Kennedy (Man City), N. Quinn (Sunderland), T. Cascarino (A.S. Nancy), R. Keane (Coventry), K. O’Neill (Middlesbrough), K. Kilbane (West Brom), D. Connolly (Feyenoord).