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Football: CALM DOWN; Ferguson's derby plea: I hope everyone is sensible.

Byline: DAVID McDONNELL

SIR Alex Ferguson last night appealed for calm from players and supporters ahead of today's hate-filled Manchester derby.

United boss Fergie fears trouble could flare on and off the pitch if referee Paul Durkin and police are not strong enough to deal with the potentially explosive match.

The fall-out from the bitter feud between Roy Keane and Alf Inge Haaland has ensured the Maine Road showdown will be played against a backdrop of seething animosity.

David Beckham was hit by a coin thrown from the crowd the last time the two sides met there, and Ferguson revealed his concerns for the on-pitch safety of his players.

"I just hope there's a sensible atmosphere in terms of how the supporters of both sides react," said Fergie.

"Everybody saw what happened with the trouble when Sheffield United played Leeds this week. That was a Yorkshire derby and emotions spilled over into trouble.

"Emotions can affect people's way of thinking and we don't want to see that. You just hope the police and stewards can do their job properly and control the situation and it's a peaceful game.

"The referee also has a job to do on the pitch. Derbies are always passionate affairs with tackles flying in, so it's important the referee is strong."

United will be without Keane, Nicky Butt and

the suspended Beckham. But Fergie is convinced the players who will step into the void created by their absence will have the strength of character to emerge victorious.

"I don't think the atmosphere will be a worry for my players," said Fergie.

"They are used to big-game situations and they can handle all the pressure.

"A derby game always gives an extra edge to the week and there's been a different mood around the training ground.

"The Manchester lads in the squad have been talking it all week."

City boss Kevin Keegan believes his players have what it takes to overcome United for the first time since their 5-1 victory in 1989. "I'm only too aware of what this game means and we have the players to win it," said Keegan, who is without injured defenders Steve Howey and Sylvain Distin, as well as Haaland, of course.

"We're going to have to be at our best. Form doesn't really matter, although our form is probably as good as United's."

Keane was last night protected by a ring of steel as he made his first public appearance in Manchester since admitting in his recent autobiography he set out to injure Haaland 18 months ago.

The United skipper was shadowed by 14 security guards as he signed copies of his book at the Trafford Centre.

Organisers fearing a possible moment of madness from a disgruntled City supporter ensured Keane was well-shielded from more than 2,000 fans who had queued for hours to meet the Irishman.

CAPTION(S):

RELAXED: Keane at his book signing yesterday; QUIET MAN: Sir Alex wants everyting to go off peacefully
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 9, 2002
Words:496
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