Carroll faces fresh dilemma over future

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Roy Carroll will wait until the end of the season before deciding whether he intends to stay with Manchester United.

Roy Carroll will wait until the end of the season before deciding whether he intends to stay with Manchester United.

The goalkeeper's future at Old Trafford has been thrown into new doubt after he was not selected for Saturday's Premiership win over Portsmouth by Sir Alex Ferguson following his error which led to Milan's only goal in the first leg of Champions' League last-16 tie in Manchester last week.

Tim Howard started at the weekend and the American looks set to stay in the side for next week's trip to Italy for the second leg, raising the possibility that Carroll has played his last game for the club.

The Northern Irishman has been stalling on signing a new three-year contract with United because he is not certain in his own mind whether Ferguson believes he has the quality required to be United's regular keeper. With speculation mounting that Ferguson intends to bring in yet another goalkeeper during the summer, even Carroll's agent Francis Martin admits the 27-year-old has a major decision to make.

"On the one hand, he could stay and end up as being the third-choice goalkeeper, on the other does he take a big risk by leaving Manchester United in order to play first-team football somewhere else?" Martin said. "It is a big decision for him to make and is certainly nothing to do with money."

United's chief executive David Gill has confirmed there is no more money on offer for Carroll. The United board knows he will struggle to find the same terms elsewhere, although Martin insists the delaying tactics are not an attempt to attract offers from rival clubs.

"We are not trying to drum up extra interest, it is purely a professional decision on Roy's part," he said. "His preference would still be to stay at United but he wants to be clear in his mind that he is seen as a long-term first-team prospect.

"A month ago it looked like that was the case but unfortunately, he has made a couple of mistakes recently and that might have put doubt in the manager's mind again."

Carroll's claims have been blighted by his blunder against Tottenham on 4 January when only a mistake by the match officials saw him get away with dropping Pedro Mendes' long-range effort behind the goalline.

Arsenal and Rangers have both been mentioned as possible destinations for the Enniskillen-born player should he decide to move on, while speculation surrounding a return to his former club Wigan will grow if they win promotionto the Premiership.

The United midfielder Darren Fletcher is hoping to return against Blackburn on 2 April in the Premiership. Fletcher is hoping to do some light jogging later this week as he continues to recover from the knee ligament injury he suffered against Manchester City last month.

The 21-year-old Scotland international was initially told he would be absent for at least six weeks, a diagnosis which would rule him out of his country's World Cup qualifier with Italy later this month. But Fletcher has confirmed he appears to be ahead of schedule in his recovery programme, raising the possibility he could join Walter Smith's squad for the trip to Milan.

Whether Ferguson would allow to Fletcher to report for international duty without even a reserve team appearance is doubtful, so a more realistic comeback date is the first visit of the former United hero Mark Hughes to Old Trafford as the Blackburn Rovers manager.

"I have been out for two weeks so far and am making good progress," Fletcher said. "Six or seven weeks is the timescale I have been given, so anything before that would be a bonus and, hopefully, it won't be that long. I have been doing some hard work in the gym and, hopefully, I will get on with some light jogging this week."

Two England strikers come face to face this weekend when struggling Crystal Palace host United. Wayne Rooney may grab the headlines but the Palace striker Andrew Johnson is the highest-scoring Englishman in the Premiership with 18, behind only Thierry Henry. Official Premiership statistics rank the former Birmingham striker Johnson the second best player in the division, again behind Henry, after two goals against his old club on Saturday.

He rises two places in this week's Actim Index, while Rooney is 27 places below him at 29 after missing games due to injury and squad rotation.