Ferguson makes retreat look like escape to victory

If ever a man could trip up in a pigsty and come up smelling sweet, it is Sir Alex Ferguson. A smile as broad as the Stretford End lit up his face as he left the Old Trafford pitch yesterday and who could blame him? Even his defeats take on the uncanny appearance of score draws.

Ferguson is likely to withdraw his court case against John Magnier and J P McManus this week, but if he is suffering over what he might have gained from Rock Of Gibraltar's stud fees, his bank manager is likely to be beaming as up to £3m is deposited over the next few years by way of settlement.

We could all happily suffer reverses like that, but then Ferguson is blessed with having the sort of problems that other people would endure. Particularly football managers.

His Manchester United rearguard is a mess, he is so short of defenders that Ryan Giggs finished the match at left back yesterday and his best goalscorer is still smarting at being left out of the starting line-up last week. Yet Ferguson can contemplate playing in the Champions' League against Porto on Tuesday, knowing his side are third in the Premiership and in the semi-finals of the FA Cup.

And, true to form, the disgruntled striker at Fulham eight days ago, Ruud van Nistelrooy, was the man who put the London side out of the FA Cup yesterday with two goals to take his tally this season to 26. Game, rest and match to Ferguson.

"Managers and players disagree about these things," Van Nistelrooy said, his omission at Loftus Road still an irritant. "but I have played more games than the rest of the squad this season so deep down I agree with him." All shoulders to the corporate message, but when pressed, the Dutchman added: "It's not nice to be rested." Ferguson, of course, was in the position of strength and could dismiss even hints of criticism. "Ruud picks himself most of the time," he said with a twinkle in his eye that said Manager 1, Star Player 0. "He could have scored four but that's what you expect of him."

What you do not expect from Manchester United is a defence so porous Old Trafford is holding its collective breath every time the ball goes over the halfway line. It may be down to part stupidity (Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville) and part misfortune (Mikaël Silvestre and Quinton Fortune) but Ferguson was without his potential first-choice back four yesterday and it showed.

Ferguson put that down to tension being transmitted from the crowd but it was not edginess that allowed Roy Keane to be dispossessed by the corner flag and it was not nerves that propelled Wes Brown into a lunge that nearly took Luis Boa Morte's leg off. Penalties for visiting sides at Old Trafford are as rare as Tony Blair's Christmas cards to Claire Short, but the referee had an easy decision to make.

But if United's defence creaked at all times it looked rock solid compared to the closing 15 minutes when Eric Djemba-Djemba replaced Keane and, instead of joining the back four, lined up in midfield. Paul Scholes looked mystified, John O'Shea did not know where he was supposed to play, and it required two visits to the touchline by Mike Phelan before the message got to the best left-winger in Britain that he had to play at left-back.

"Ryan Gigg is a marvellous defender," Ferguson said by way of explanation. "He's a terrific tackler, he's quick and he's good in the air. I could have put Eric Djemba-Djemba on the right and pulled Phil Neville over to left-back but Ryan is naturally left-footed so I thought it was the right thing to do."

Whether Ferguson's decision would have stood the test of the criticism in the light of a replay is another matter but when Boa Morte cut in from Giggs' flank and aimed a low shot towards United's goal after 88 minutes, the most likely result was a goal for the visitors. Instead, Tim Howard dived and got enough of a touch on the ball to divert it away from Fulham's preying forwards. Ferguson had got away with it... but then he usually does.

Voices
Homeless Veterans charity auction: Cook with Angela Hartnett and Neil Borthwick at Merchants Tavern
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick