Ferguson confident of escaping ban

Sir Alex Ferguson will plead guilty to the charge of improper conduct laid against him yesterday by the Football Association but remains convinced he can keep the punishment limited to a fine.

Referees have insisted that Ferguson should be handed a touchline ban – a punishment unprecedented for a manager who is brought before the FA for media comments – after his suggestion that Alan Wiley was physically unfit to referee Manchester United's match against Sunderland at Old Trafford. But the United manager remains confident that this will not be meted out and that he can keep the damage strictly financial.

The FA have given Ferguson two weeks to respond to their charge and do not expect a response from him until that deadline, regardless of his plea. Though a contested hearing seems improbable, it is likely he will seek a personal hearing to put forward his own mitigating case, as he sees it.

An appearance before the FA's independent regulatory commission will give him the chance to express his own view that a fair trial is impossible, given what he sees as a campaign being waged against him through the media by the referees' fraternity and by Prospect, the referees' union, in particular.

Ferguson, right, will discuss his next move with the club when he returns from United's Champions League tie in Moscow but his belief that he will receive only a fine flies in the face of demands from Prospect for something more severe and suggestions that Wiley should pursue the United manager through a civil court for libel if a ban of some description is not handed out. Either way, some substantial controversy appears to be stored up ahead, with media comments not yet subjected to the same fast-track procedures as touchline behaviour in the FA's disciplinary system.

First, Ferguson has the tricky obstacle of CSKA Moscow to negotiate, with a squad ravaged by injury. Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Patrice Evra, Park Ji-Sung and Darren Fletcher were all absent from the squad which flew out yesterday. Dimitar Berbatov and Nemanja Vidic are still doubtful for the match but have made the trip to the Russian capital.

United have not won in five encounters against Russian opposition but Ferguson insists that the Luzhniki Stadium's plastic pitch should cause them no trouble. "I have no issues with the pitch in Moscow," Ferguson said. "When Luton and QPR had them all those years ago we always played well on them. We had a great record at those grounds and that was when the artificial pitches weren't as good. The one in Moscow has a far better covering on it."

The Luzhniki was a grass surface when United beat Chelsea on penalties in the Champions League final in the stadium in 2008 but Ferguson believes the plastic will suit United's style. "I [don't] see any issue with it at all. It was a passing surface," he said.

United lead Group B with six points but they may face a challenging evening against CSKA, who have won their last six European home matches.

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