Sir Alex Ferguson has accused the Football Association of victimizing his Manchester United team, with the 69-year-old Scot claiming that it is now “an obvious trend” within the governing body. The FA has handed out a five-match touchline ban to the United manager and a two-match playing ban to striker Wayne Rooney in the past month, with the Reds’ management vigorously contesting each sanction.
Indeed Ferguson, whose side meets 10th placed Fulham at Old Trafford on Saturday, accused the FA of pressuring referee Lee Mason to alter his post-match report after United’s victory at the Boleyn Ground last weekend.
“He was put under pressure [by the FA], there is no doubt about that. He’s now put himself in the spotlight and if he doesn’t send a player off for swearing the question will be: has he got double standards? It’s a very difficult position. I don’t know how his career is going to go now.”
And asked if he believed the two-match ban imposed by the FA, was fair, Ferguson said: “I don’t know if you can use that word ‘fair’ any longer.”
“But we can use it. The support will be fantastic now. You watch it. It will be absolutely magnificent. And the players are absolutely brilliant.”
But if off-the-field events have dominated this week’s headlines then Ferguson is at least boosted by an almost fully fit squad for the Londoners’ visit. While Brazilian youngster Rafael da Silva will miss the game with a dead leg, fellow defenders Wes Brown and John O’Shea return following injury, although Jonny Evans is suspended.
Ferguson will also welcome back midfielder Anderson, who scored twice in United reserves’ 2-1 victory over Manchester City this week. The 22-year-old Brazilian has missed two months with a knee injury but could make the bench, with Paul Scholes also in line for a return to United’s midfield. Nani is likely to be given another rest, with the Portuguese winger looking jaded in recent weeks.
Indeed, Ferguson may be tempted to protect key players ahead of United’s crunch Champions League quarter-final second leg with Chelsea on Tuesday night. While Rio Ferdinand came through the tie at Stamford Bridge without reaction, Ferguson could turn to Chris Smalling in defence. Meanwhile, with Rooney suspended Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov will start in attack.
Yet, Ferguson chose to focus on outside pressures, saying that recent events will strengthen United’s resolve to win a record 19th domestic title in May.
“I want us to make it clear that we can rise above recent problems and that we are a club who can overcome all difficulties and attempts to knock us off our perch,” Ferguson wrote in his programme notes for United Review.
“We have done it before, and we can do it again if we pull together at this vital stage of the season as we go from one major fixture to another. This is the fighting spirit that makes Manchester United such a great club, and which has helped us over the line to success so many times in the past.”
Meanwhile, former United favourite Mark Hughes is could be without winger Damien Duff, who is suffering from a sore Achilles but may make the bench. Defender Aaron Hughes is available after recovering from a head injury.
The west London club hasn’t won at Old Trafford since 2003 but boasts just one loss to United in the last four meetings between the sides. United must also guard against complacency with the Reds having taken 49 points from a possible 51 in their last 17 Premier League games at Old Trafford.
“Every game is difficult now,” midfielder Scholes added in United Review.
“Bolton at home proves it – that was a game we were expected to get three points from and we almost didn’t. The games aren’t turning out as people think they will. Bolton were very organised and had chances to win the game themselves. We know Fulham are a similar team. They like to get the ball down and play. They’ve got dangerous players and a manager who’s hungry for them to do well.
“It’s going to be difficult but, being at home, we’d like to think we can win it.”
With league games against Newcastle United and Everton coming after the cup double-header in this week, victory will be another huge step towards regaining the Premier League title. Indeed, should United win each of the next three the title will surely be heading to Old Trafford. And with Arsenal not in action until Sunday, United will move 10 points clear of the Gunners with victory today.
Fulham – 4411 – Schwarzer; Baird, Hughes, Hangeland, Salcido; Davies, Etuhu, Murphy, Sidwell; Dempsey; Zamora. Subs from: Johnson, Dembele, Stockdale, Kelly, Gudjohnsen, Kakuta, Duff, Greening.
United – 442 – van der Sar; O’Shea, Vidic, Smalling, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Scholes, Park; Berbatov, Hernandez. Subs from: Kuszczak, Owen, Bébé, Fabio, Obertan, Gibson, Nani, Anderson, Ferdinand, Giggs.
Referee: Mark Jones
Assistant referees: Stuart Burt & Scott Ledger
Fourth official: Michael Oliver
United – DWWWWW
Fulham – DLDWLW