SAFC 10 YEARS AGO: Roy Keane - no one is safe!

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Here’s what the Echo was reporting on Sunderland 10 years ago.

KEANE: NO-ONE IS SAFE!

Roy: Players must earn the right to be part of this team

ROY KEANE says a competition for places in his promotion-chasing Sunderland side will be open and fierce, with no-one guaranteed a place in his starting line-up.

The Black Cats boss believes that nothing is more important to a successful side than players’ awareness that they have to be at their best to continue to hold down a place in the team.

And he is satisfied that, at last, the current Sunderland squad has players pushing for every position.

He said: “It has been something we’ve been striving for since I came here – to get genuine competition for places, because you have to have that if you want to get anywhere in the game.

“And I have to say that we’re getting there now with the squad we have.

“We’ve been able to cope with injuries quite well and we’ve also had the players to switch things around when we need to.

“Competition is healthy for any club, it keeps players on their toes. And in every position we’ve got players who can challenge for a place in the starting line-up and that’s good.”

That situation could not be better exemplified than in the goalkeeping situation at the weekend where Hungarian international Marton Fulop deputised for the injured Darren Ward and did an outstanding job.

Ward has been in top form since breaking into the side back in October at the expense of Ben Alnwick. But Fulop came in against Plymouth Argyle at the weekend and pulled off a string of fine saves in the 2-0 victory to stake his claims for a first-team place.

And Ward accepts he has a genuine battle for the jersey.

He said: “Marton’s situation is the same as mine when I first came to Sunderland. I didn’t come to the club aiming to just sit on the bench and Marton will be the same.

“Just as I fought for the position with Ben, so Marton will fight with me. That’s the way it should be.

“Competition is good for the team and for the club and it’s what the manager wants. I’m delighted to have played as many games as I have but I understand the situation. We get on really well but Marton will want games and that will be at my expense.

The 6ft 5in Fulop looks to have a bright future ahead of him and received warm praise from Keane at the weekend.

Ward said of the 23-year-old: “He’s a smashing lad and he’s very grounded and works really hard. He’s an excellent goalkeeper who has kept me on my toes since his arrival and I’m sure that will continue.”

ROWELL SAYS: SOMETHING SPECIAL IS HAPPENING – I’M LOVIN’ IT!

I DON’T want to get ahead of myself, although I know sometimes I do as a Sunderland fan.

But there’s just a feeling I get that there’s something happening at Sunderland which everyone is beginning to get excited about.

I hate to use the word ‘special’, but it’s probably the most appropriate word.

I’ve been banging on for months saying that I think Sunderland are all but nailed on for the play-offs, despite their early position and I don’t think there’s any reason why we can’t go up automatically.

Now the team are making those opinions become reality with 16 points taken from the last 18 and closing to within four points of second place.

And at Plymouth at the weekend, I sensed more than ever that special feeling has become contagious with the fans.

I’ve felt for a while that there is no team in the division that Sunderland need fear and I find myself going into games these days expecting Roy Keane’s men to either win or draw.

It’s a massive turnaround from the mood of gloom and uncertainty which surrounded the club after the poor results early in the season.

And I feel as though there’s a momentum building up which can carry Sunderland much higher up the table.

The only disappointing thing about the weekend is that, bizarrely, Sunderland STILL aren’t in the top six.

But I’m not too worried about it and I don’t imagine Roy Keane is either.

It will come, of that I’m certain.

And when Sunderland do get in there, I think they’re going to take some shifting.

Ooops, there I go getting carried away again!