Ferguson unsentimental about his pension and United's position

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Sir Alex Ferguson can fund his hairdryer with a heating allowance from tomorrow, but otherwise pensionable age will have no discernible effect on the manager of Manchester United. Yesterday he called for an appreciation of the nation's farmers and revealed a fondness for the occasional siesta but his preoccupation, on the cusp of his 65th birthday, was that he and his players give more in pursuit of a first Premiership title in four seasons.

Ferguson will celebrate his landmark occasion at a Tyneside hotel ahead of United's demanding trip to Newcastle on New Year's Day and it is this work ethic, along with undimmed enthusiasm for the job, that the Scot hopes is shared among his squad as they continue the task of prising the championship from Chelsea against Reading this afternoon.

A four-point lead and the injury problems inflicted upon Stamford Bridge have brought relief to United after the recent lapse at Upton Park but, mindful of the away fixtures to come in the second half the season, Ferguson has issued the message that every advantage will have to be toiled for.

He explained: "The goalkeeper [Petr Cech] and centre-half [John Terry] have been the mainstays for Chelsea but no matter what their team has been, Terry's absence can only account for the loss of two points [against Reading] and we have dropped three [at West Ham] so we are in a worse position since Terry went out of their side than at the start of the month.

"But we are four points clear because our form has been more consistent than theirs and we have to maintain that consistency."

Having railed at those who broached the subject of retirement when he celebrated his 20th anniversary at Old Trafford last month Ferguson was unsurprisingly unsentimental about his 65th birthday on New Year's Eve, although he did reveal that he remains as demanding of himself as he is of the players under his charge.

"It is just another birthday to me," he said. "But I suppose it is a landmark because it is the day people become eligible for their pensions, a bus pass and a heating allowance. I am no different to anyone else in that respect and when you have worked for the length of time I have, you deserve them.

"I'm still up early every morning. Some mornings I wake up early, watch the television for an hour and go back to bed, but I'm up by 6.30-6.45 and I'm in here. As a young boy my dad got me up at six every morning and I'm no different now. It becomes a habit. Sometimes I'll have a cat-nap around 4.30-5 o'clock of around 15 minutes and that helps, although I don't always do it. There are plenty of people - farmers, butchers, milkmen, bakers - who get up earlier than I do and you have to admire these people. Farmers, in particular, when you consider the elements they have to work in in this country."

Ferguson will be without the suspended Paul Scholes and Nemanja Vidic against Reading, with the midfielder's place taken by the fit-again Michael Carrick, and the United manager has also welcomed back youngsters Phil Bardsley, Giuseppe Rossi, Lee Martin, Chris Eagles and Jonny Evans from various loan spells although several are likely to move again, such as Evans to Sunderland.