Ferguson's backing fails to shift doubts over Carroll

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson gave his support to Roy Carroll yesterday despite the goalkeeper's mistake against Tottenham Hotspur this week, but the player's future at Manchester United is still uncertain as Tim Howard returns for the FA Cup third-round tie against Exeter City today.

Ferguson had already planned to give the American, who fell out of favour in September, games against the Conference side and Chelsea in the Carling Cup on Wednesday, before Carroll was rescued on Tuesday by linesman Rob Lewis, who failed to see him drop the ball in his goal.

However, the United manager refused to confirm that Carroll would definitely be his first-choice goalkeeper for the rest of the season. Instead he said that the Northern Ireland international had done his best to retrieve the situation but the referee Mark Clattenburg and Lewis should not be blamed for the error.

Ferguson said: "Roy was trying to retrieve the situation. He dived back and did his genuine best to get the ball back away from the goal. He reacted as any goalkeeper would. That's why referees are on the pitch, to make decisions. He couldn't do it on that one so the weight of argument is very strong now for technology.

"The ball was clearly over the line, I'm not going to dispute that, but the criticism of the referee and the linesman was unfair. I don't think they had any chance. He was thinking maybe it was a goal, but he couldn't give it because he wasn't 100 per cent sure. He had a little doubt about whether it was in and I don't blame him.

"I never saw it was over the line. I swear I never realised until I saw it on the video. I saw the Tottenham players react, obviously. The people at that end knew but no one on the touchline knew." The United manager dismissed claims that Carroll should have owned to conceding a goal as "nonsense".

With Wes Brown returning from injury to play today, Ferguson is expected to rest Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and possibly Rio Ferdinand. The hamstring injury to Ryan Giggs is not as bad as first thought and he should be back in two weeks' time.

"What happened on Tuesday was not surprising really because we have played the same players in four games in 10 days," Ferguson said.

"You could see that with Scholesy and when Ryan came off that just compounded it. If we had had some freshness we would have made changes but we couldn't do it."