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.

News
peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
Voices
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits