Ferguson banking on home record remaining intact

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The Independent Online

Having lost the match they could afford to lose, Manchester United must tonight succeed in the first of two Champions' League ties they have to win.

Their defeat to Juventus a fortnight ago may have been humbling but it ought not affect their chances of reaching the quarter-finals. Even a draw, against the holders in Turin, would have been a bonus.

Tonight, however, they meet Rapid Vienna, one of the two unseeded clubs in Group C. If United are to qualify they must beat the Austrian champions, and their Turkish counterparts Fenerbahce, in the home games and take a point or two away.

There is reason for optimism - and for caution. Tomorrow marks the 40th anniversary of United's first European home game. In that time they have played 55 matches and not been defeated once. They have defied some of the great European teams so Rapid Vienna, one might think, should not be a problem.

However, it is less than a year since a last-minute goal from Peter Schmeichel was needed to prevent unfancied Rotor Volgograd from defeating United 2-1 at Old Trafford. The Russian side still won the Uefa Cup tie on away goals but, recalled Alex Ferguson yesterday, that goal was some consolation.

"When Peter scored Brian Kidd turned to me and said at least they did not take your record," Ferguson said . "The record can intimidate foreign teams - but it can be intimating for myself. I do not want to be the manager who loses it.

"At some point it is going to happen, but I hope it is long after I have gone to the the great penalty box in the sky and am at peace."

It is hard to imagine Ferguson being at peace anywhere but he may be if he can finally emulate Sir Matt Busby and lead United to European Cup success. Busby it was who defied the Association to lead United into Europe 40 years ago. That first win, by 10-0 over Anderlecht, was at Maine Road (there were no floodlights at Old Trafford). Manchester City hosted two other ties, and Plymouth's Home Park one (as a punishment for hooliganism by United's fans in the mid-70s).

Ernst Dokupil, the Rapid Vienna coach, said: "They are one of the top sides in Europe - if they could play better away from home they could be the best."

United's reluctance to be themselves is one of the factors which led to their poor display in Turin. Another was the team selection. This will again be crucial tonight and the indications are that Ferguson will revert, as far as possible, to the Double-winning side. Ronny Johnsen will come in for the departed Steve Bruce and play alongside the recovered Gary Pallister (assuming he has no reaction to his knee injury).

Roy Keane and Nicky Butt are fit to play in midfield which means Jordi Cruyff and Karel Poborsky may find themselves on the bench. The biggest doubt is at centre-forward where Ferguson must choose between Andy Cole and Ole Gunnar Solkjaer - neither seem ideal.

Schmeichel is also back - though he hopes he will only be called upon to save goals rather than score them. He has had flu and has been drained by the virus.

The Austrians are expected to be without the international midfielder, Christian Prosenik, but they do have the recognisable and hirsute figure of Trifon Ivanov at the back.

They also have Michael Konsel in goal - a veteran of the 1985 Cup-Winners' Cup final defeat to Everton. They reached that final again last season as well as winning their 30th league title.

As they look around Old Trafford, with its steepling North Stand, multi- million-pound signings and lucrative megastore, some of the Viennese may reflect that, as little as three years ago, they almost went bust for the want of pounds 900,000. United should win tonight but Rapid's subsequent prosperity suggests they will not submit tamely.

Manchester United (probable: Schmeichel; G Neville, Pallister, Johnsen, Irwin; Beckham, Keane, Butt, Giggs; Cantona, Solskjaer.

Rapid Vienna (probable): Konsel; Zingler, Marasek, Ivanov, Schottel, Guggi, Heraf, Ratajczyk, Kuhbauer, Stoger, Stumpf.