Ferguson keen to put an end to replays

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The Independent Online

Having seen his long running campaign for a winter break fall on deaf ears, Sir Alex Ferguson has hinted that FA Cup replays could become a thing of the past at Manchester United.

Ferguson sends his depleted United side into fourth-round battle against Tottenham tonight insisting that he would not be facing an injury crisis had football chiefs introduced a mid-season break in the Premier League. He believes strains picked up by his walking wounded over the festive period have developed into full-blown injuries because of the congested programme.

Ferguson has now been made aware of an article in the FA Cup rule book which states that teams, in the event of the tie ending in a deadlock, can request extra-time after 90 minutes to try and avoid a replay.

United and Tottenham had to contact the FA within seven days of the fourth-round draw being made to request extra-time. As they did not, a replay will take place at White Hart Lane on 4 February should tonight's tie end all-square.

The controversial rule has upset football traditionalists who argue that the FA Cup has been devalued enough already. Yet Ferguson believes it is worth investigating as it could help solve the problem of fixture congestion. "I had never heard of this before, but it has always been there," said Ferguson when asked about the rule yesterday. "It is in the articles of the Association that both teams can apply to have the game decided. I will be speaking to David Gill about it."

An FA spokesman said that if a request is received then they can approve extra-time, but there will be no penalties after 120 minutes. Instead there will be a replay and, if necessary, extra-time and penalties.

"It is a rule that has been around since before the Second World War which has never been invoked for the FA Cup proper rounds," added the spokesman. "It is aimed at the preliminary round to help teams with geographical distances."

With Jonny Evans, Anderson and Nani joining long-term casualties Wes Brown, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand in Old Trafford's treatment room, Ferguson believes the Premier League would benefit from a winter break. Most of Europe already has a mid-season interval and the long-serving United manager thinks it is time for the Premier League to fall into line.

"I'm not 100 per cent sure on why a break hasn't come in but I think it has got something to do with television – they wouldn't have any live football for two weeks," added Ferguson. "Players carry knocks and sprains right through January. They tend to say to you, 'Don't worry I'll play' because there are always big games at this time of year but when you get to March that is when it manifests itself to be a significant injury.

"A couple of years back we had Gary Neville, Gabby Heinze, Patrice Evra – we got four or five injuries in March – and it could have been a direct result of playing with strains that become serious injuries."

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