'It was like a scene from Zulu as Leeds fans besieged us'

United manager says the situation outside the team hotel before Carling Cup contest was 'frightening'
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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson said the sight of the Manchester United team hotel besieged by Leeds fans was "like something out of Zulu".

Should they play at Elland Road again, United will not be using a city centre hotel as they did before Tuesday night's 3-0 win in the Carling Cup which was marred by 24 arrests. While Leeds supporters indulged in their familiar, tasteless reference to the Munich Disaster, there was one banner in the away end that said: "Istanbul", a reference to the two Yorkshire fans killed before a Champions League fixture with Galatasaray in 2000. Ferguson said the atmosphere around the team hotel before kick-off was "frightening".

"We had a lot of problems outside the hotel," he said. "I don't know how many hundreds of them there were. It was like something out of the film Zulu. But the police were fantastic.

"We have never had anything like that before because we have never stayed in the centre of Leeds. Next time we'll stay in Glasgow and get a helicopter down." Unlike the fixtures with Liverpool, which he has always treated as derbies, Ferguson has never come to terms with why games with Leeds inspire such hatred, pointing out that the two clubs have done plenty of transfer business over the years and are in different counties.

"Liverpool-Manchester United games have always been fierce in many aspects and sometimes supporters can play a bad part in that but it never reaches the levels of Leeds United," Ferguson said. "It was frightening. Our hotel had seven police vans protecting the team. I don't know what it is between Leeds and Manchester United but it is not nice."

"Not nice" would be a fairly apt description of the position of any goalkeeper travelling to Stoke to face a bombardment from dead balls, long-throws and their increasingly effective wing-play, a threat that has increased since signing Peter Crouch.

You can judge a team's resilience by how they have fared at the Britannia Stadium. Liverpool have never won there. Arsenal have lost three of their last four fixtures. Chelsea have never lost at the Britannia but Manchester United have never dropped so much as a point. Nevertheless, this evening may be David de Gea's sternest test in the United goal and, if Rio Ferdinand is fit, his manager is anxious he should play.

"If you don't pay attention to the atmosphere there, it engulfs you," said Ferguson. "I remember with Edwin van der Sar we used to discuss what his positioning would be for the long throw-ins. I think we got it right. We will do the same with David – all the work has been with his positioning."

Manchester United's start to the campaign – five straight wins, 21 goals scored, may have surprised even themselves. Should they win at Stoke, it will be the club's best start to a season under Ferguson, although everyone at Old Trafford recalls how when Ron Atkinson's side reeled off 10 straight victories in 1985, they finished fourth.

Ferguson said he is usually relieved when such sequences end; pointing out that the club's unbeaten start to last season, which extended until February, actually hampered his side away from Old Trafford.

"I thought that last season," he said. "We were getting draws away from home where you'd expect United to win some of them. It was our worst away record in the history of the Premier League. Then we lost a game and there seemed to be a far better focus away from home."