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Football: FERGIE IN TON OF TROUBLE; CHAMPIONS LEAGUE, 2ND PHASE, 1ST LEG: FC PORTO 2 MANCHESTER UNITED 1 Euro dream is looking like a nightmare as Keane walks in Porto storm.

Byline: David McDonnell

AFTER his recent warnings to United's young stars about the need for self-discipline and total commitment to the cause, Roy Keane last night let his club down when they needed him most.

Keane's moment of madness in stamping on Porto keeper Vitor Baia marred Sir Alex Ferguson's 100th Champions League game as United boss and may well end up costing the club their European dream for another season.

This morning the United skipper cannot point the finger of blame at his young team-mates who, he claimed, believe their own hype and "slacken off" when they get their first taste of celebrity playing for the biggest club in the world.

How can United's emerging youngsters take such warnings seriously from a player who cannot keep a hold on his own fragile temperament? With one malicious stamp of his foot, Keane has undermined his own position among the next generation of superstars at Old Trafford.

Trailing 2-1 with four minutes to go was no disgrace to a Porto side who, in truth, could have been further ahead, such was their superiority in attack and movement of the ball.

Demolish

A precious away goal from Quinton Fortune had given United something tangible to take into the second leg and, with their remorseless ability to demolish opponents at the Theatre of Dreams, United had every chance of progressing to the quarter-finals.

But when Keane allowed his frustration to get the better of him, that scenario went out of the window. United will be without their inspirational skipper for the return leg and, even if they do progress, Keane will also miss the quarter-finals.

While it is possible to see United coping without Keane for one game, it is hard to see them getting past Europe's finest in the last eight without the heartbeat of their side.

Ferguson has used Keane sparingly this season in a bid to ensure his ailing skipper's body is in perfect condition for crucial games such as these Champions League encounters.

And although Fergie immediately leapt to the defence of Keane after the game, insisting Baia made a meal of the challenge, you can be certain the United boss will privately berate Keane for his latest moment of madness.

This was Keane's first sending-off since he elbowed Jason McAteer at Sunderland on August 31 2002. Since then, Keane had proclaimed he was a changed man, that he had mellowed and that he had learned to channel his aggression in the right way.

Yet the folly of that claim was evident for all to see last night. Keane's rash trampling of Baia was undoubtedly in part down to frustration at not being able to stifle Porto's impressive, free-flowing attack.

Keane and Nicky Butt were outplayed by the brilliance of the likes of Brazilian teenager Carlos Alberto, and the guile and movement of Porto's two-goal hero Benni McCarthy.

Quite simply, United were outclassed by superior opponents and Fergie, in a rare moment of honesty, admitted afterwards that his side had got off lightly. He was right, it could have been a hiding.

Yet when Fortune seized on the rebound from Paul Scholes's thunderous free-kick to give United a 1-0 lead in the 14th minute, there were few who could have predicted such a bleak outcome to the night.

But when Ruud van Nistelrooy missed a glorious chance to double that lead three minutes later, inexplicably trying to head a ball he should have stabbed in at the far post, the omens did not look good.

In truth, United's early lead flattered them, and Porto began to dominate the contest once they had composed themselves from the early body blow of going behind.

They put United under relentless pressure and Fergie's makeshift central defensive pairing of Gary Neville and Wes Brown were made to toil, as was every member of a United team who were called upon to defend.

But an equaliser was inevitable and it duly came a minute before the half-hour when Dmitri Alenitchev turned sharply to fire in a cross for McCarthy who swept a first-time shot into the net. It then became a matter of United hanging on and taking the 1-1 draw back to Old Trafford. Fergie's men were forced to sit deep and soak up pressure and, even when they did have the ball, they conceded possession far too cheaply.

But, in fairness, Porto's winner came out of nothing. Nuno Valentes sent a hopeful ball into the United area in the 77th minute and there seemed no immediate danger.But McCarthy, so impressive throughout, out-jumped Neville and Brown to send a looping header over Tim Howard and into the United net.

It was no more than Porto deserved and the reshuffling of United's defensive personnel, in the absence of the injured Mikael Silvestre and the suspended Rio Ferdinand, proved decisive.

Yet the drama was not yet complete. That was reserved for Keane's moment of idiocy. He has saved United so many times in the past, but this time he let them down and only has himself to blame.

FC PORTO: Vitor Baia, Paulo Ferreira, Jorge Costa, Ricardo Carvalho, Nuno Valente, Pedro Mendes, Maniche, Deco, Alenitchev (Jankauskas 63), Carlos Alberto (Ricardo Fernandes 75), McCarthy (Bruno Moraes 83).

MAN UTD: Howard, Phil Neville (O'Shea 70), Gary Neville, Brown, Fortune, Keane, Butt, Scholes, Saha (Ronaldo 76), Giggs, van Nistelrooy.

56% POSSESSION 44%

7 SHOTS ON TARGET 3

8 SHOTS OFF TARGET 1

0 OFFSIDES 5

5 CORNERS 1

21 FOULS 25

0 YELLOW CARDS 2

0 RED CARDS 1

ATTENDANCE: 49,977

MAN OF THE MATCH: McCarthy

CAPTION(S):

GUTTED: United duo Gary Neville & Nicky Butt; BENNI & THE THREATS: McCarthy scores; SHAME OLD KEANE: Roy Keane gets his 11th red card
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 26, 2004
Words:954
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