“He didn’t actually cut his head off,” Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson said, having watched his captain Roy Keane attempt to land a haymaker on Newcastle captain Alan Shearer.
It’s a defence, of sorts, which was unlike the Premier League champions on that day in September 2001, when they lost 4-3 at St James’ Park.
Keane himself, in one interview after the incident seemed frustrated the only thing he’d managed to knockout was the yellow card from the hand of referee Steve Bennett, which he was due to get.
Before the swing-cum-shove, Keane had hit Shearer in the head with the ball while pretending to take a throw-in, a fairly obvious misdemeanour, a caution was coming.
The lash out though, that would earn him an upgrade, despite Gary Neville pushing him aside and away from further trouble.
The roar of St James’ Park didn’t help, 50,000 furious fans aiming their ire at Keane.
“I lost my temper, we were losing 4-3, I think, in the last minute,” he said looking back on the moment of madness.
“If you’re going to get sent off, the worst thing is, I pushed him. If you’re going to get sent off you might as well punch him properly because you’re going to get the same punishment.
“You might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. That’s what I was thinking afterwards. It was just a push. It was ridiculous.”
Shearer played his part superbly in the piece, his cool stare back at Keane, knowing his opponent was riled, was just as villainous as the acts performed by his foe.
The England legend had, eight minutes prior, put Newcastle ahead in the seven-goal thriller for one last time before the final whistle, via a deflection off Wes Brown.
In fact, having pegged Newcastle back to 3-3, it had looked like United would go on to win it, and even after the Toon winner, Paul Scholes missed two excellent opportunities.
Keane was frustrated and not getting Shearer to fall into his trap and react to being hit by the ball was the last straw.
He continued to chase and goad his opponent but nothing worked.
Shearer was delighted, he told the Match of the Day podcast: “Yeah, I didn’t like him. I had loads of rucks with him and I wasn’t the only one. It was a throw-in in the far corner where I stopped him taking an early throw.
“We were beating them at St. James’ and he wanted to take a quick throw-in and he’d been at me all game as he normally was. It was about three or four minutes before the end of the game. I can’t remember exactly what I said, I called him some sort of name.
“He got the red card and I remember having a little smile and thought: ‘I’ve done you [like] a kipper here. I can’t believe you’ve fallen into that little trap.’ ”
It nearly got tasty in the tunnel just minutes later too, according to Shearer in another interview: “He was waiting for me at the top of the tunnel. Of course, we tried to get each other and we couldn’t, it was like hold me back, don’t hold me back, but we couldn’t get to each other, it would have been interesting.”
Although his teammate Craig Bellamy didn’t quite recall it that way.
He claimed in his autobiography: “I saw him waiting for Alan in the tunnel at the end of the game and Alan didn’t seem to be hurrying off the pitch!
“He was one of the last to come off actually, which we all made sure we remarked on when he finally made it back to the dressing room. Keane had to be dragged into the United dressing room by then.”
Manchester United were into their fifth game of the season as reigning Premier League champions and while they continued to hit the back of the net regularly, the loss of centre-back Jaap Stam, sold to Lazio in the summer, saw their backline weakened.
Seven goals had been conceded in their first four games, and the loss to Newcastle made it 11 in five, even with the addition of France World Cup winner Laurent Blanc.
Keane has high standards and that decline didn’t go down well at all.
In fact, so frustrated was Keane by his own actions, he even considered hanging up his boots, despite just turning 30.
At the end of the previous season he’d been red carded for his infamous challenge on Alf-Inge Haaland, and despite another Premier League winners’ medal going his way, all was not quite right.
He added: “I was fed up and annoyed with myself. Especially after the match. The gaffer never really had a go at me. I knew from his body language – ‘how much more, Roy?’
“I saw him the next day and I said ‘I’ve had enough’ – and I meant it.
“I came back that night and I waited, didn’t sleep a wink. I spoke to Theresa [Keane’s wife] when I got back and she said ‘you’re mad’ and I said ‘I know that but…’
“I never trained the Monday, or the Sunday, and he came round on the Monday in afternoon, and we had a good chat.
“He said ‘you’ll miss it’ and I was convinced I wouldn’t but I suppose deep, deep, very deep down of course I knew I would miss walking out at Old Trafford. I loved playing at Old Trafford and I loved playing for United. Full stop.”
He carried on playing for the Red Devils until a dramatic falling out in November 2005 but after six months with Celtic he was forced to retire in June 2006.
Shearer, though, retains huge respect for Keane and his career as a colossal leader for a great Manchester United side, despite their various rucks.
“I did [have run-ins] but only because of the amount of respect I had for him, because of how much he wanted to win and what a captain he was,” said Shearer, evaluating Keane’s possible Hall of Fame entry this week.
“The sign of a great captain is when your team is in trouble, you’ve got 70,000 or 80,000 fans looking at you, you’ve got millions all around the world looking at you.
“Probably more importantly, you’ve got your team-mates and your manager looking at you to do something to get us out of trouble.
“Whether that be a tackle, a pass or a goal, whatever that may be and that’s what great captains do – and that’s what Roy Keane was.
“He was a great leader and he led his team to so many victories, to so many trophies and he epitomised everything great about Man Utd at that time.”
Could Keane join his sparring partner in the Hall of Fame? We don’t think it will be too long.