Football: Ferguson looking to Liverpool for support

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ALEX FERGUSON wants to see Liverpool make a late surge for a Champions' League place. The Manchester United manager feels it would help his side's title hopes if their fiercest rivals were involved in the tussle for the top places.

Gary Pallister has even gone as far as saying that he feels Liverpool could still mount an 11th-hour challenge to United and Arsenal in the championship race. The Merseysiders could have a big say in the destiny of the title because they still have to play the top two sides.

Liverpool's former United midfielder, Paul Ince, has refused to hoist the white flag and he even believes victory at Old Trafford on Good Friday would relaunch their bid.

A win for Liverpool would see them close the gap on leaders United to nine points and they have two games in hand. The Reds are due to play Arsenal at Anfield on 6 May and they are desperate to end their disappointing season on a high by at least qualifying for the Champions' League.

Ferguson is well aware of this, but he is quite happy to see Liverpool push United and Arsenal all the way to the finishing line. "Obviously we've got them at Old Trafford on Friday and I hope they get involved because they have got Arsenal at home," he said.

"They will be desperate at least to get second place and that's a big incentive to a lot of teams. I would welcome them into the fray - if they can get into it - but most importantly we must do the job ourselves."

Ferguson knows Liverpool will need little motivation for tomorrow's game which is always one of the biggest games of the season. He is anxious that come the last week of the season Roy Evans' side will be just as determined to beat the Gunners.

Liverpool are praying that the lucky charm double act of Paul Ince and Jamie Redknapp can continue to cast its spell on the Premiership. They have never lost a Premiership game when they have had Ince and Redknapp in the side. Injuries and suspensions have severely restricted their appearances together this season - Ince's first at Liverpool since his move from Internazionale last summer.

Roy Evans, the Liverpool manager, has been able to pair his midfielders together in 12 Premiership matches, and Liverpool have not lost one. In fact, they have won eight and drawn four in that spell, and the importance of the couple to Liverpool's best form is underlined by the fact that the club's worst results of the campaign have all occurred when the partnership has been broken up by injuries and suspensions.

League defeats by Barnsley, Manchester United, Aston Villa, Everton, West Ham and Leicester have occurred when one or other of the pair have been left on their own in the side.

Ince, who goes back to Old Trafford for the first time in a competitive match since his departure to Internazionale in July '95, has gone on record as claiming his partnership with Redknapp is one of the best in Europe.

He said: "I don't just think it is the best midfield pairing in England, but I believe it's the best in Europe too. It's not just being flash, it's how I see it.

"We are great mates off the pitch which helps and we have a good understanding on it. His passing ability and my tackling, I don't think there is much missing from our partnership."

With doubts over Paul Gascoigne's fitness, the feeling at Anfield is that Ince and Redknapp are good enough together to play alongside each other in the World Cup.

Ince hopes his return to United will not be an ordeal."I was given a good reception by United fans when I went back for Inter in a pre-season friendly but it will be different with me in a Liverpool shirt,'' he said.

Liverpool have Jamie Carragher back in the squad after an ankle injury but Stig Bjornebye will miss both Easter games with badly bruised ribs, received in a reserve game on Monday, while Jason McAteer's hopes of a return after breaking his leg in January have been put on hold after a minor operation to his mouth.