Neville faces another seven weeks out as United struggle on

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The Independent Football

Neville was scheduled for a first-team recall against Blackburn Rovers this afternoon, a game his team-mate Paul Scholes insists United must win if they are to mount a genuine title challenge. Instead, he faces a seven-week spell on the sidelines after breaking down in his recovery from a persistent groin injury on Thursday and then undergoing surgery in an attempt to remedy the problem.

The 30-year-old, who suffered a recurrence of the complaint in the Champions' League qualifying round second leg against Debrecen, is unlikely to be considered for Premiership duty until mid-November, ruling him out of the visit of Chelsea to Old Trafford on 6 November and England's World Cup qualifiers against Austria and Poland.

He joins Roy Keane, Gabriel Heinze, Louis Saha, Wes Brown, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Quinton Fortune in the treatment room, with Fortune illustrating the misfortune afflicting United by contracting tendonitis in the opposite knee to the one he had an operation on in the summer, and leaves Ferguson bemoaning his pre-season wish for a clean bill of health. "I shouldn't have opened my mouth," he said yesterday.

Ferguson revealed: "We felt the operation was a necessity because his groin problems were recurring. When he broke down in training we had to make a decision that would suit us in the long term, and hopefully this will solve the problem. I would say he will be out for between three and seven weeks."

Despite mounting evidence, including a central midfield role for Alan Smith that is now borne out of need as well as desire and the sight of Kieran Richardson at left-back for several more weeks, Ferguson, anxious to avoid handing Jose Mourinho any further advantage in the championship, believes that he still has the resources to cover so many experienced absentees.

He explained: "We've got 19 players in the squad for Blackburn, which includes the team from last week plus Rossi, Pique, Giggs, Miller, Bardsley, Ji-Sung Park and Fletcher so, while I wouldn't suggest for a minute that is what we would like, it is not too bad in comparison with other clubs."

The United manager has also called on Premiership clubs to outlaw the footwear that contributed to Keane's broken metatarsal at Anfield last Sunday, when he was injured by the Liverpool striker Peter Crouch 10 minutes before his eventual substitution.

"The interesting thing about Roy's injury - and we have strong views on this - is that it clearly shows the shape of the blade stud in his foot," Ferguson said. "It's amazing, it is almost as though a photograph has been taken. We have strong views about these blades because we don't allow our players to wear them and they can cause serious accidents."