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Football: Common agenda unites opposites; Managers aren't so different They are often portrayed as complete opposites and former enemies but according to Gareth Southgate and Roy Keane, they are more similar than people realise.

Byline: Stuart Rayner reports

IF you looked at the world in black-and-white, you might think Gareth Southgate and Roy Keane were the worst of enemies. But it speaks volumes for both that the subject of their most infamous meeting seems certain not to come up when they resume combat at the Riverside this afternoon.

The Premier League's two youngest managers and one-time sparring partners prefer to focus on what bonds them rather than divides them. In 1995, Keane received the first red card of an occasionally infamous playing career when he thrust his studs on to the torso of then Crystal Palace player Southgate.

Coming in an FA Cup semi-final tie already scarred by the death of Paul Nixon in a fight between rival supporters and only three months after Eric Cantona's kung-fu kick on another Palace fan, it had many a media commentator saddling up their high horses. But to Southgate and Keane, it is as if it never happened.

"These things happen in games," shrugs Keane when asked to dredge up the incident yesterday. "I think it was his teammate who'd wound me up. I've played against Gareth many times since, and we speak a bit - it's not come up in the conversation."

Typically, the Irishman does not see the fuss about a flashpoint still remembered to this day. "That wasn't a personal thing," he says. "I was going to say he was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think I got his stomach, it wasn't the groin area."

It fits the pantomime script better for the two to be complete opposites - Keane the snarling, aggressive thug, Southgate the Mr Nice Guy unfortunate enough to be on the wrong end of his temper. But neither men thinks the differences are all that stark.

"You think so?" says Keane when the subject is broached. "We played different positions - although he played in midfield for England, I know. I spoke to him last year and met him once or twice, when our reserves played each other and on part of the A-licence. Gareth's a nice enough bloke."

Southgate - at 37 the older by 11 months - thinks his opposite number is just misunderstood. "We send each other the occasional message," says the former England defender. "The character people think he is is no more than perception. People don't really know any of us until they spend time with us. I was very impressed with Roy when I met him last year. I hold him in high esteem as a player and a person. I'm not surprised he's doing a good job as a manager."

Southgate's reputation as one of football's nice guys is well earned, but Keane is not naive enough to think his opposite number could succeed without a ruthless edge. "You have to be tough, all the top managers need that streak running through them," he argues, "but that is not to say you cannot be nice. Look at me, I can be nice as well.

"But don't be fooled by Gareth that he is completely 100% a nice guy. I am sure he is able to make harsh decisions. You have got to be tough in this job. Gareth Southgate had a very good career and I am sure he will go on to become a top manager."

As if to prove the point, Southgate is eager to stir up his players for their first derby of the season, while Keane is in no rush to pour cold water over his own.

"We know what these derby games mean to the fans, but also to the players," Southgate argues. "We want to win this game in particular. Everybody who pulls on a shirt for us is giving everything. We have to work harder than Sunderland and outplay them." When asked what his approach would be, Keane was thinking on similar lines: "It's all about passion, getting the balance right but you have to have passion," he says.

While Southgate is almost as inexperienced as Keane in management, the Irishman is still eager to learn from him. "Of course I respect him, he's had a very good career and did well for Middlesbrough as a player," he says. "But he would tell you he's got a tough job there and he did well last year. He's had the benefits of another year in the Premiership compared to myself. He's obviously got a slight advantage at this moment.

"They don't have to necessarily be managers from the top, top clubs for you to pick their brains and look at the way they watch games or deal with the media, but everyone's different. That's why we all love football - players are different, clubs are different, their histories are different."

As, of course, are Southgate and Keane. But not that different.

Flash facts

Boro have won five of their last six Premier League games against Sunderland after failing to win any of the first six

Middlesbrough have scored in 14 of their last 15 Premier League home games

Sunderland have won only two of their last 39 Premier League away games but one of them was at the Riverside in September 2005

Sunderland have failed to score in five of the last seven Premier League meetings with Boro

Chris Riggott's first goals (two) for Middlesbrough came in a game against Sunderland in February 2003 - he has only scored two more league goals for the club since

Boro have scored exactly three goals in three of the last four matches against Sunderland

Match box

Middlesbrough v Sunderland

Team news

BOTH sides are pretty settled at the moment, so today's selections will be based on how much, if it all, to change. A hamstring injury to Jeremie Aliadiere means Gareth Southgate must make one alteration, while Roy Keane has the option of, unusually for him, naming an unchanged side again. There may be a temptation to give Boro's Gary O'Neil and Sunderland's Ian Harte their full debuts.

Injury update: Andy Cole (calf) - doubt; Russell Anderson (calf) - doubt; Kieran Richardson (back) - three months; Carlos Edwards (hamstring) - three weeks; Stan Varga (knee) - 2-3 months; Dean Whitehead (knee) - two months.

Middlesbrough 4-4-2

Likely line-up

Manager: Gareth Southgate

1 Mark SCHWARZER

2 Luke YOUNG

8 Jonathan WOODGATE

31 David WHEATER

33 Andrew TAYLOR

7 George BOATENG

10 Fabio ROCHEMBACK

3 Julio ARCA

19 Stewart DOWNING

9 Ahmed MIDO

17 TUNCAY Sanli

Substitutes: Gary O'NEIL

18 LEE Dong-Gook

22 Brad JONES

27 Lee CATTERMOLE

24 Andrew DAVIES

Sunderland 4-4-2

Likely line-up

Manager: Roy Keane

1 Craig GORDON

6 Paul McSHANE

5 Nyron NOSWORTHY

14 Danny HIGGINBOTHAM

15 Danny COLLINS

18 Grant LEADBITTER

4 Dickson ETUHU

19 Dwight YORKE

33 Ross WALLACE

17 Kenwyne JONES

16 Michael CHOPRA Substitutes:

3 Ian HARTE

9 Anthony STOKES

11 Daryl MURPHY

12 Liam MILLER

13 Darren WARD

Referee: Howard Webb (South Yorkshire) Has issued 12 yellow cards and no red cards in five games this season. Last Sunderland game handled: the 2-0 Premiership defeat to Middlesbrough in September 2005. Last Middlesbrough match: the 2-2 home FA Cup draw with West Brom in February.

Head to head (the League record)

Sunderland wins: 54

Draws: 31

Middlesbrough wins: 39

Last time: Middlesbrough 0, Sunderland 2 (Miller, Arca) - Premiership, September 25, 2005.

Last five League games: Middlesbrough L W DWL; Sunderland D LLLW.

Top scorers: Mido & Stewart Downing (Middlesbrough) 2; Michael Chopra (Sunderland) 2

Match odds: H Evens; A 12-5; D2-1.

Kick-off: Today, 1500.

TV: Highlights on Football First - Sky Sports, 2215 & Match of the Day-BBC1 2230.

CAPTION(S):

READY FOR BATTLE: Sunderland striker Michael Chopra during a squad visit to an assault course in Richmond this week.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 22, 2007
Words:1276
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