'Collapsed' pitch at Old Trafford set to be replaced

Darren Fletcher has been unable to play on current surface

Sir Alex Ferguson has confirmed Manchester United will rip up their Old Trafford pitch in the summer after it became so heavy Darren Fletcher has been unable to play on it.

Scotland international Fletcher has been a notable absentee during United's packed festive programme.

After battling back to fitness after being struck down by a chronic bowel condition, Fletcher was involved in four matches in the space of a fortnight at the end of last month.

However, he was on the pitch for just a minute of United's festive campaign, being introduced as a late substitute in the Boxing Day win over Newcastle.

And the reason, according to Ferguson, lies in a surface he says has simply "collapsed".

"The pitches over the last few weeks have not suited Darren," Ferguson said. "They are really heavy pitches. Unfortunately, Old Trafford seems to have collapsed in the last two weeks.

"We have had six great years out of the pitch. Our groundsman, Tony Sinclair, has done a fantastic job. But it is looking tired now and I think we will have a new pitch in the summer."

It leaves Fletcher sweating on a place in Ferguson's squad for tomorrow's FA Cup third-round tie at West Ham, which Wayne Rooney will definitely miss with a knee injury.

Rooney suffered the knock in training on Christmas Day, with Ferguson initially thinking the England striker would be back in action within a fortnight, in time for next Sunday's key clash with Liverpool.

However, Ferguson today confirmed that timescale will not be met, with Rooney now likely to be sidelined for the January 20 trip to Tottenham as well.

"It is nothing serious," Ferguson added. "He just got clipped behind his knee. We sent him for a scan and nothing showed up but he is still feeling it. Hopefully two weeks will sort it.

"It is not that we can't cope, because we have not had our best squad available all season, particularly in defence.

"Nonetheless it is a loss. Although we are in great form you always want your best players available for the big games."

Nothing can be taken for granted though, as Ferguson's injury assessments are not always accurate.

For instance, the initial timescale put on Nani's hamstring strain was 10 days, but only now, two months on, is the Portugal winger ready to rejoin training.

United can only hope Rooney is not sidelined for a similar period, as that would mean him missing the Champions League trip to Real Madrid at the beginning of next month.

United have played in four Champions League semi-finals, reaching the final on three occasions, since the last of their record 11 victories in the FA Cup.

Of their present squad, Fletcher, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are the only ones with winners' medals, with even Rio Ferdinand missing out on that 2004 victory over Millwall due to the ban he served for missing a drugs test.

"Rio has been with us 10 years and not won the FA Cup," Ferguson added. "It is amazing. We will have to do something about it."

Although many would view United's success in Europe and relative failure in the FA Cup as confirmation of their priorities, Ferguson points to instances of bad luck in the world's oldest cup competition.

He still feels aggrieved at final losses to Arsenal in 2005 and Chelsea in 2007, both of which he felt were undeserved.

Semi-final defeats to Everton and Manchester City are more recent, with a run of matches against Arsenal, City twice, an away tie at Liverpool and now an encounter with West Ham at Upton Park underlining that the draw has not been particularly kind either.

"Over the last three or four years we have had some really difficult ties," Ferguson added.

"When the draw comes out you hope for either a home tie or one you can navigate. This is a particularly hard one.

"But I always feel, at a club like ours, the closer we get to Wembley, the better we become."

PA

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