O'Shea's bit part has a major benefit

United's bench-warmer happy for brief tastes of glory as the bigger picture looks bright
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The Independent Football

The Manchester United defender John O'Shea has admitted that his disappointment at failing to hold down a permanent first-team place at Old Trafford will be a small price to pay for another Premiership winner's medal at the end of the season.

The 25-year-old Irishman has predominantly figured as a late substitute for Sir Alex Ferguson's men during this campaign and after starting in the Wednesday win over Watford, he could well find himself back on the bench for today's trip to Tottenham Hotspur.

Yet O'Shea acknowledges it is precisely the spirit engendered by a fully-fit and thriving squad who had secured supremacy over Chelsea and were looking strong bets to reclaim their title. He said: "It is obviously frustrating when you are not playing week in, week out but that is the case when everyone is fit and you are top of the League. The manager has big decisions to make and when you get your chance you have got to take it.

"Everyone is chomping at the bit to get into the team. In the last couple of seasons we have had vital players missing for months but this season we have coped with everything that has been thrown at us and you can see we are enjoying it."

United head to White Hart Lane with striker Louis Saha back in contention following a knee injury and knowing it is crucial for them to improve a recent record on their travels which reads four points from their last four games.

It is particularly imperative with potentially difficult away trips to the likes of Stamford Bridge and Anfield and a derby against City still to come this season, while Chelsea boast a relatively easier run-in.

But O'Shea insisted that Chelsea's results are the last thing on the minds of the United dressing room as they focus on simply maintaining and if possible extending their lead for as long as possible. He added: "We are just looking at ourselves and we know it is going to be a tough game on Sunday and we have got tough games to come. But with the form we are in we are feeling very positive."

O'Shea has added his voice to the United chorus singing the praises of veteran Swedish striker Henrik Larsson since his arrival on a supposedly short-term loan deal from Helsingborgs in the new year. There is already talk of Ferguson seeking to make Larsson's move to Old Trafford permanent and such a move would go down well with O'Shea, who insists the striker has served as an inspiration to the rest of the squad. "You can see from the impact he has had and the goals he has scored already that he is a top-class player and it is a privilege to train and play with him. He gave the squad a boost at a good time when difficult games were coming up, and it will be sad to see him go if he does go."

Tottenham's newly-signed defender Ricardo Rocha believes United have proven themselves as a great team by bouncing back in style from when he helped Benfica defeat them in the Champions' League. United's defeat in Portugal last season was the low point of a miserable European campaign but they have regrouped splendidly.

Rocha is in line for his Premiership debut today, with Martin Jol's defensive options limited by Ledley King's foot injury which has ruled the captain out for another six to eight weeks. Spurs have not beaten United since 2001 but Rocha has tasted victory over Ferguson's men recently, even if he was only as a late substitute last season.

"United were not very good that season and it was important for us, but they have proven since then they are a great team," said Rocha, who is determined to make up for the mistake that allowed Jérémie Aliadière to strike the decisive goal in Wednesday's Carling Cup semi-final defeat by Arsenal.