Manchester United are expected to be without Rio Ferdinand for tonight's defining Carling Cup semi final derby, after he was charged yesterday with violent conduct in his comeback game after three months out.
Ferdinand is expected at a 10am meeting with United's advisers at Carrington this morning where he will be told that there is near incontrovertible evidence of him apparently striking Hull City's Craig Fagan in the face during United's 4-0 win at Old Trafford on Saturday. The advisers are understood to consider the video footage to be "difficult to defend".
The timing of the charge, on a day when Ferguson insisted his players' conduct was so impeccable that he did not have to remind them of their behaviour going into tonight's Old Trafford second leg 2-1 behind, was unfortunate. Ferdinand will also miss the home game with Portsmouth if he pleads guilty by today's 6pm deadline but if he denies the charge, and plays against City, he runs the risk of facing a one-game extension – taking in the visits to Aston Villa and Everton if the FA judge the denial to be "frivolous" and a deliberate attempt to face City.
The United manager's irritation with those who challenge his side's conduct in the Carling Cup first leg also contributed to him yesterday banning Sky Sports from his weekly Carrington press conferences. The mood of Ferguson, whose club are understood to be paying £10m for the signature of Chris Smalling, as revealed in The Independent yesterday, did not lighten when, a few minutes into his pre-match press conference yesterday, he misinterpreted an early question about footage of City chief executive Gary Cook as being one about footage of Gary Neville. "You come out with some nonsense, so you do," when the question he believed to be about Neville was posed. "I don't pay any attention to a lot of that. The players' behaviour has always been perfect. I don't know why you are going on about it. Look at the record. Unbelievable."
The ban, the latest in a long line which also means Ferguson currently refuses to speak to the BBC and periodically bars newspapers journalists from his Friday briefings, does not include pre- and post-match interviews, which will continue tonight.
Ferguson has also declared that Cook was getting "carried away" by telling fans last week that City are on the threshold of superseding Manchester United, insisting that the Old Trafford club's vastly greater experience will carry them through a more intense League Cup occasion than any the Scot has experienced on home soil.
Ferguson was reluctant to fuel any fires ahead of this evening's potentially incendiary occasion and did not rise to the bait of Cook declaring at the City-supporting Mad Hatter bar in New York that "this football club is without doubt going to be the biggest and best football club in the world." Ferguson declared: "Sometimes people can get carried away. Only the future can decide that."
Two arrests were made by Greater Manchester Police yesterday after images of 15 fans suspected of contributing to last week's violence were published and intense security tonight will include 70 more officers than policed the first leg, with corporate hospitality guests not immune from the searches that will be carried out on all fans.
Overcoming a 2-1 first-leg deficit will allow Ferguson to put the "noisy neighbours" in their place with some symbolism this evening. "You might be right," he said, when it was suggested that tonight might eclipse all other League Cup occasions at Old Trafford in his 24 years at the club.
"It will be a different type of semi-final. We have had semi-finals in this competition in recent years against Blackburn and Chelsea. I can't even remember if they were full houses – but tomorrow it will be full and it will be a fantastic atmosphere."
In the 34 seasons since City last won a trophy, United have clinched 28 of them, including the Super Cup, Intercontinental and World Club Cup and excluding Charity Shields but still United's desire tonight is as great as the pretenders. "It's got nothing to do with [wealth]," Ferguson said.
"It's a local derby. No money – or lots of money – comes into it. It doesn't matter. This is a route to the final. We showed last week that we want to be in the final. This game is at Old Trafford and I can think of many times when we have gone into this situation in a semi-final over the years. You hope that experience serves us."
Ferguson will field a full strength team tonight.Reuse content