There was deference from Sir Alex Ferguson last night for his side's FA Cup quarter-final opponents, the Manchester United manager declaring Swansea City, who will replay against Fulham "very, very impressive." But after an easy win over Derby County, another highly winnable tie stands between United and the FA Cup semi-finals. Even Ferguson had to admit he has Wembley in his sights. "We are one step away from Wembley if you look at the semi-final, so that is a big incentive for us," he said.
The contribution from squad players at Pride Park led the County manager, Nigel Clough, to declare that United are quite capable of winning a quintuple now. "It is possible when you see that today," Clough said. "If they had played Arsenal, Chelsea or anyone they could have put four past them."
Asked if Ferguson's decision to start the game with none of his recognised strikers – Cristiano Ronaldo played in that role, with Ryan Giggs starting up front alongside him – had given him hope, Clough could only smile. "Recognised strikers? You'll have to explain that one," he said. "As soon as you look at the attacking options they have you know you are in for a difficult afternoon. We didn't take any hope at all [from the United teamsheet]."
United's performance, on a ground where they were defeated 1-0 in the Carling Cup semi-final first leg last month, was "the best performance from the three we've played them," Clough said, also taking into account United's 4-2 win in the Old Trafford second leg. "How do you play against someone like Ryan Giggs, who can play wide, central midfield, up the middle." Ferguson and Giggs also both felt the pace of United's game was better than the Carling Cup tie here.
Clough took heart from his own side's display, including a spirited fight back from a 2-0 half-time deficit. "They can almost score at will but in a 10-minute spell after our goal we could have got back to 3-2," Clough said. "It would have been easy to go other way and be on wrong end of a five or six [goal defeat]."
The Derby manager was justifiably disappointed that United's second goal stood, despite the United defender Rafael – in an offside position – running in front of the goalkeeper Stephen Bywater when Darron Gibson's shot came in. "He's got to be in goalkeeper's line of sight but sometimes you don't get those and one was today," Clough said. Ferguson countered: "Rafael was not interfering with play. But it is a crazy rule."
Ferguson, who is likely to have Wayne Rooney back for Saturday's Premier League home match against Blackburn, and conceivably on the bench for Fulham's arrival on Wednesday, was dismayed that the referee Alan Wiley took so long to disallow a goal Cristiano Ronaldo converted after a long throw out by Ben Foster was flicked on by Giggs. "I got an explanation, but what that was I'm not so sure," he said. "The ball was thrown out so he [Ronaldo] was on an offside possession when the ball was thrown. The linesman created his own confusion because he went so long, until after the goal had been scored, to say it was offside."Reuse content