KEITH Gillespie hopes he has done enough to warrant a place in the starting line-up to take on former club Manchester United tomorrow.

But there is one player who the Blackburn Rovers winger hopes is a million miles away from a comeback - Roy Keane.

The Republic of Ireland midfielder's notoriety ballooned during the summer when he quit his national squad at the start of their World Cup campaign in Japan.

His biography caused further ructions, largely due to his revelation of how he intended to harm Manchester City's Alfie Inge Haaland, for which he was fined a record £150,000 and banned for five games.

On the field, he last kicked a ball in anger on August 31 when he was sent off against Sunderland. Since then he has been sidelined after undergoing surgery on his hip.

But after coming through 90 minutes of reserve action on Thursday night, Keane could be in line for a first team call-up tomorrow. And, regardless of his off-field problems, Gillespie knows he is a formidable opponent.

"I think Manchester United are a better team with Roy Keane so I would prefer it if he didn't play," the 27-year-old admitted.

"He's obviously had his problems this season but he has bounced back. Hopefully he won't be fit enough for Sunday though. He's such a great player."

Whether Keane plays or not, for Gillespie, whose football career began at Old Trafford, Rovers v Manchester United is a long and eagerly awaited fixture.

"It's the first fixture I look for when they come out," he said.

"It's going to be a very hard game, especially with the form they're in. Although we're not getting results at the minute we feel we're playing well enough, so hopefully we will get that little bit of luck to change our fortunes.

"Last season we played particularly well at their place and it was a late goal that cost us. We've shown before that we can match ourselves against the big teams so hopefully we can do the same tomorrow."

He added: "We treat it as though it's any other game. It's always our hardest game of the season but you've got to try to go out and do what you want to do.

"Andy Cole's playing really well at the minute, scored two great goals during the week and scored last Saturday as well so he's on top form and I'm sure he wants to do well tomorrow, playing against a former club as well.

"Andy and Dwight Yorke are still great players so it was quite a surprise when United let them go. But it was to our advantage they did because they're in great form at the minute. Andy looks really sharp and Dwight is playing his part as well, although he's not got the goals he probably deserves."

Gillespie himself will also be keen to get on the scoresheet against United, just like he did last season with a wonder-goal in the 2-2 draw at Ewood Park.

"It's nice to score and against your old teams it's even better," he said. "At the minute I'm just hoping to be in the side. What comes after that would be a real bonus.

"I was fortunate last year to score against both of my ex clubs and it does mean that little bit extra. My main priority is to get into the team and play regularly, but if I was to score and help my team to victory, that would be all the better."

After being drawn against United in the Worthington Cup semi-finals, Rovers play Alex Ferguson's side three times in a month.

But Gillespie says the team's attentions will be totally focused on their league campaign for now. And if they start converting chances into goals, the former Newcastle United wide man, who is set for new contract negotiations in the New Year, is confident Rovers can secure a place in the top six at the end of the season.

"The manager has instilled into us that the Premiership is what we're playing for and we want to finish as high up as possible," he said.

"What we do in cup competitions is a bonus. It's hard not to think about the Worthington Cup when you get to the semi-final and we all remember Cardiff so well from last year. It will be difficult to forget about it but the manager's there to make sure our minds don't stray elsewhere. What we really have to do is concentrate on the Premiership.

"After last week's game the manager just talked about concentration because the two goals we gave away were bad errors on our part.

"We were creating enough chances in front of goal so if we can just cut out the silly mistakes and do what we are doing going forward we'll win more than we'll lose.

"We've played well this season but we've thrown an awful lot of points away with late goals. Middlesbrough, Manchester City and Chelsea were three of those, Tottenham as well.

"If you look at the league table, we're sitting in 10th. This time last year we were a bit lower down.

"But we certainly feel as if we're playing well enough to finish in the top six."