Ferguson prepares to concentrate his attention on FA Cup

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The Independent Online

Sir Alex Ferguson's statement that there was "a state of shock about the place" when Rio Ferdinand's appeal against his eight-month suspension failed is a sign that there is still an air of unreality at Old Trafford.

Sir Alex Ferguson's statement that there was "a state of shock about the place" when Rio Ferdinand's appeal against his eight-month suspension failed is a sign that there is still an air of unreality at Old Trafford.

Since many at the FA were agitating to increase Ferdinand's ban for failing to attend a routine drugs test, United might have thought they escaped lightly. Nevertheless, although Ferguson said yesterday that the club would "take counsel" before deciding its next move, a further appeal is unlikely. The gamble of taking Ferdinand's case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland would be an enormous one, since the CAS could be expected to take a tougher line than the FA's disciplinary panel.

Manchester United appear to have little option but to accept a verdict that has contributed heavily to the undermining of their season. The loss of Ferdinand has been compared to the banning of Eric Cantona in 1995, but United have suffered more without Britain's most expensive defender than they did minus the mercurial Frenchman.

Since Ferdinand departed halfway through United's defeat at Wolverhampton in January, they have failed to win five out of seven Premiership games in which they have conceded goals at the rate of more than two per match. During the 1994-95 season in which they lost the title to Blackburn, United performed marginally better without Cantona, losing just two of their final 16 matches and picking up 2.12 points per game compared to 2.07 with Cantona in the side.

A dozen points behind Arsenal, Ferguson has not yet conceded the championship is lost but the fact that "two or three younger players" will be on the bench against Tottenham this afternoon points to his energies being directed towards the journey to Highbury next Sunday and especially the FA Cup semi-final with Arsenal which follows.

Roy Keane, Eric Djemba-Djemba, Kleberson and probably Cristiano Ronaldo will be missing at Old Trafford today. The absence of Louis Saha is more worrying. The striker arrived at United with a calf injury, which was aggravated while on international duty with France and is now affecting his achilles. Ferguson suggested that an operation could not be ruled out: "If we don't sort out the problem now, it will be worse than it is at the moment."

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