NIALL QUINN'S brief encounter with first-team management has made him realise just how much Roy Keane was made for the top job at Sunderland.

When Quinn failed to persuade Keane to take the job initially in the summer, the chairman-cum-manager lost his opening four matches at the helm.

Had he fared better then he could have decided to extend his time in charge, during which he chose to reject an opportunity to sign Anthony Stokes on a season-long loan from Arsenal.

Four months later and Keane, having been convinced to take the plunge in management by Quinn last August, went back to the Gunners and paid £2m for the teenage striker.

While Stokes may not have had the same impact as fellow January recruits Carlos Edwards, Jonny Evans and Danny Simpson, the Sunderland chairman admits his successor in the manager's office has proven himself to be an expert at finding the right quality at the right price.

"Roy Keane, in my opinion, seems to be gifted at spotting a footballer," said Quinn, who did give the go-ahead for the signing of Tobias Hysen last summer. "He's not prepared to buy overpriced players.

"He knows what we're doing and where we need to be, he knows he has the funds but he also knows that there's a history of football clubs falling apart because managers have paid too much for players.

"It's getting the whole recruitment side of it right. It's also about the players you don't sign, having the power, as Roy has, to see that someone won't work for us while someone else will.

"They are the crucial issues. If all that comes right, things come together.

"It's tricky to get it all right but it's not impossible."

There is no danger of either Quinn or Keane becoming complacent after seeing Sunderland climb to the top of the Championship with three games remaining, after today's visit of QPR.

"If I was to rest on my laurels, say 'this is great' and go out and celebrate, that's when football has a nasty habit of creeping up and kicking you up the backside," he said.

"I always have to be at least one transfer window ahead. There are good scenarios and bad scenarios and I have to be ready for falls that might happen. I can learn from experiences, not just here in the past but at many, many football clubs."

Yesterday Keane confirmed that experienced midfielder Graham Kavanagh is unlikely to play again this year - unless Sunderland are involved in a play-off battle.

Kavanagh emerged through part of a reserves fixture against Hibernian on Thursday after a knee operation, but seems to be too far away from full fitness.

Ideally he would have been playing regularly for the second-string but a lack of opportunities has hit his attempt to gain full fitness.

The decision was taken towards the back end of last season to pull Sunderland out of the reserves league but, given the huge turnaround at the club, Keane has enrolled a team in the reserves league for next season.

"We're definitely in a league next year," he said.

"At every big club you need a reserve team, there's no edge to the friendlies we've been playing, so that's been taken care of."