Sunderland manager Keane geared up for close finish

Last updated at 15:56 20 March 2008

Sunderland manager Roy Keane is warning the club's fans to prepare themselves

for a nail-biting finale to the season as the battle for Barclays Premier League

survival reaches crunch time.

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The Irishman has predicted for several months that the race for safety would go

down to the wire, and with every club from Wigan in 13th place down to marooned

Derby involved in the battle, he is anticipating a dramatic conclusion to the


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Middlesbrough face Derby, Newcastle host Fulham and Reading meet Birmingham

this weekend, which means there could be significant changes in the current


And Keane, whose side head for Aston Villa on Saturday, admitted he is

surprised that so many clubs are still involved at the bottom end of the table.

He said: "Possibly so, but that suits everybody. It is helping everybody,

because over the next few weeks, a lot of those teams are playing each other.

"We saw Newcastle at Birmingham the other night and it was Wigan v Bolton last

week, so teams are going to drop points because we are playing each other - and

some of us have still got the likes of Arsenal to come.

"I actually think it is the most intriguing finish to a season for a long,

long time because usually at the bottom, there might be four or five teams who

could go down.

"You saw it last year, right on the last day of the season, it was between

Wigan and Sheffield United, whereas this season it could go to the last day and

there might be three or four teams who still could go down."

Keane will hope the Black Cats have dragged themselves clear of the scrap by

that point - they entertain Arsenal as the curtain falls eight days after a

potentially decisive trip to Bolton.

However, to do that, they will have to address a four-game run without a win

which has brought just one point, and perhaps more damaging, their failure to

win a single game away from home so far this season.

Indeed, Sunderland have collected just three points from a possible 45 away

from the Stadium of Light, and an improvement on that this weekend could hardly

be more timely.

Keane and his players will head for Villa Park still struggling to understand

how they did not record a win over Martin O'Neill's men on Wearside in December

when referee Steve Bennett ruled out Danny Collins' injury-time header for

reasons which remain best known to himself.

However, the manager, despite his side's lowly league position, believes they

have made progress since and is far from downhearted.

"You look at the league table and you say maybe we could be doing better,"

Keane said.

"But I have to say, when you look at the players we have brought to the club,

the injuries we have had, the decisions which have gone against the club, we are

happy with the position we are in in that we are in with a chance of fighting


"But I am sure if you asked another six of the seven teams near the bottom,

they will all feel they have a good chance, and I am no different.

"We are delighted we are still in their fighting. We have a good chance to

remain in the Premier League, but we have to go out and do it and we have to

prove it."

Meanwhile, Keane has admitted he can do nothing to prevent striker Kenwyne

Jones and winger Carlos Edwards, who has only just returned from a broken leg,

from joining up with Trinidad and Tobago for their friendly against Jamaica next


He added: "We don't have a choice in it. They will play at the weekend and

then off they will go."

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