Ferguson blames old guard for Leeds defeat

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The Independent Online

Sir Alex Ferguson has absolved his young players of blame for Manchester United's shock FA Cup defeat to Leeds last weekend.

The icy conditions around the north-west mean United have been forced to wait to get that dire performance out of their system.

But while Ferguson is still at a loss to explain why his team ended up getting outplayed on home soil by the League One promotion contenders, the United chief is adamant the younger men in his squad were not the ones responsible.

"You can't blame young players," he said.

"The young players were looking for a bit of help in that game and didn't get it.

"It was a bad team performance and I was shocked by it.

"I couldn't believe that after all the preparation we had done for the game and explaining to the players how difficult it was going to be, we turned in a performance like that.

"It was a bad day but I am beyond that now."

Instead, Ferguson will look for instant improvement at Birmingham tomorrow evening.

Not that it will be easy. Ferguson himself was snowed in on Tuesday, when the heavy falls took hold of the north-west.

United's players were given two days off, then spent two days training inside, which is hardly ideal preparation, even though the Red Devils do have a significant advantage with undersoil heating on one of their outside surfaces making one decent pre-match practice possible.

Yet, even for someone brought up on the banks of the River Clyde, and went on to spend eight years at Aberdeen, it has been an uncomfortable few days for Ferguson.

"The pitch is all right but we are frozen so we are not going," he joked.

"I have never known anything like this. This is Aberdeen weather.

"It has been impossible. Most of the players couldn't get their cars out and Mike Phelan was snowed in in Burnley, although that was not a surprise."

Ironically, the bad weather has come at a time when Owen Hargreaves was finally starting to do some normal training with the reserve team, meaning an end to an 18-month injury nightmare is coming closer.

Rio Ferdinand is two weeks away from a return due to his long-standing back injury, which is roughly the amount of time Nemanja Vidic will be out of action after suffering a nerve problem in his leg prior to last weekend's game.

Ferguson does have Senegal-born front-man Mame Biram Diouf available for the first time after finally linking up from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's old club Molde.

However, he realises an overall improvement is required if United are to end Birmingham's 12-match unbeaten run, a record that has seen Alex McLeish's men climb into the top eight.

As one of his old warhorses at Aberdeen, Ferguson has always kept a close eye on McLeish's progress.

And he has been hugely impressed at the work of a man who includes Rangers and the Scotland national team on his impressive CV.

"Alex has done a brilliant job at Birmingham," said Ferguson.

"He is a very progressive young manager. He has always been ambitious.

"Alex understands the history of Birmingham and you will see a change there over the next few years."

That change will also come as a consequence of Carson Yeung's takeover.

The Hong Kong businessman may not have spent any money since he took control from David Sullivan and David Gold but Ferguson believes he will provide fresh impetus.

"The change of owner has been a good thing for them," said Ferguson.

"It has given them a freshness. They have different people to work with.

"The old regime were set in their ways in terms of financing the team and there never seemed to be any great financial support in the sense of understanding how big Birmingham could be.

"If you go back quite a few years, Birmingham were the bigger team in that area. Obviously Aston Villa have surpassed them in every way over the past few decades.

"But it appears Birmingham are trying to buy one or two players for a considerable amount of money. It is the first time I can remember them doing that.

"They are on the way up that is for sure."