Football: United facing a pitch battle

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The Independent Online
MANCHESTER UNITED could face more problems from the Old Trafford pitch than from struggling Nottingham Forest in the fourth round of the Worthington Cup.

The United manager, Alex Ferguson, has held further talks with his head groundsman, Keith Kent, and the turf consultant John Souter in an attempt to get to the root of the problem.

One theory is that there has not been sufficient sunshine for the grass to grow and therefore the roots have not become properly embedded in a mesh just below the surface. If the pitch does not improve, as a last resort United may be forced to re-turf large sections before the end of the season.

There was some good news for Ferguson however, with United's Norwegian defender Ronny Johnsen stating that his ankle injury is not as serious as first feared. Johnsen's comeback, after two months out with ankle ligament trouble, lasted just 25 minutes when he limped off near the end of Sunday's goalless draw against Newcastle at Old Trafford.

Initially it was thought the Norwegian international had suffered a recurrence of the injury and faced another lengthy spell on the sidelines.

Johnsen, though, says he just took a kick on his ankle, and feels he could be back in action before the end of the month.

"I got a kick on it and it has swollen up," he said. "It's on the same spot where I had problems with the ligaments, but it's just a kick and not a twist this time.

"Hopefully by the end of the week I will be back in training or at least doing some running."

The Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, has reiterated his intention to send out his "alternative" side for the tie against the Worthington Cup holders, Chelsea, tonight.

Wenger insists he will not let the considerable distraction of the Champions' League, let alone the Worthington Cup, interfere with his priority of keeping Arsenal among the leading clubs in the Premiership for at least the next five years.

All his leading players, except the Dutch striker Dennis Bergkamp, will be missing for tonight's game, as Wenger is ready to risk exiting a competition that still offers the carrot of European qualification.

"Every game Arsenal lose is considered a disaster because of who we are," Wenger said, "and it will be disappointing to me if we lose to Chelsea.

"But there are four priorities for us in a season and the Worthington Cup is the fourth."