Solskjaer's future at United thrown into doubt after season-ending injury

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The Independent Online

There were fears yesterday that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may have played his last game for Manchester United. The 33-year-old striker looks certain to miss the rest of the season after suffering a fractured cheekbone in a reserve game against Middlesbrough on Tuesday night. With his contract up in the summer, this latest injury setback could not have come at a worse time for the Norwegian.

Solskjaer will have an operation to reduce the extent of the fracture. Although club officials have rated his recovery as "between six to eight weeks", the loss of match sharpness almost certainly means he will not play again this season.

The Norwegian striker was continuing his comeback after almost two years out with knee problems but lasted only seven minutes at Billingham before he was accidentally caught by Ugo Ehiogu as the Middlesbrough defender attempted to head clear.

Solskjaer, who was clearly groggy, had to be helped off the pitch and was transferred to a local hospital, where it was confirmed that he had fractured a cheekbone.

Solskjaer had been hoping for a pay-as-you-play deal after successfully overcoming a knee injury which had ruled him out of virtually the previous two seasons. He will always be regarded as a hero at Old Trafford, not just for his injury-time Champions' League winner against Bayern Munich in 1999, but also his devotion to the United cause.

Solskjaer finally returned to Premiership action at Birmingham in December. He also appeared in both FA Cup ties against non-league Burton Albion a month later, although he has been restricted to second-team appearances in recent times as he looked to regain the sharpness that established him as one of the most lethal front men in the Premier League.

Solskjaer's injury was the start of a bad night for United, who also lost Quinton Fortune with a twisted knee in the 1-1 draw. Like Solskjaer, the South African has been plagued by fitness problems and was only in the second game of his comeback from a knee injury which has prevented him making a single senior appearance this term.

United medical staff have played down the seriousness of Fortune's injury but, so far, no precise diagnosis has been made public.

In addition, Gerard Pique was forced off with a dead leg and Patrice Evra limped away from a heavy Ehiogu challenge late on, although the £5m Frenchman was at least able to complete the game.

The injury crisis overshadowed a result which saw United consolidate their position at the top of the FA Premier Reserve League (North).

Danny Graham gave second-placed Boro a first-half lead but Frazier Campbell netted in the second period to maintain the Red Devils' five-point advantage with six games of the season remaining.

Across Manchester, the City manager Stuart Pearce, who has been working under the terms of a two-year rolling contract since last summer, is now understood to be ready to sign a lucrative deal, worth £900,000 a year.

The 43-year-old former England defender has been content to have nothing more than a gentleman's agreement with the chairman John Wardle in the interim. That is apparently about to change as City go in search of a place in Europe.

"The manager agreed a two-year rolling contract last summer and has been working to the terms of that deal ever since," club spokesman Paul Tyrrell said. "When he finally signs, it will simply rubber-stamp the existing agreement."

Pearce took over as caretaker a year ago when Kevin Keegan left after being on the former England manager's coaching staff. He did so well that he was offered a pay rise in June.

City are still harbouring hopes of a Uefa Cup place and travel to struggling Portsmouth on Saturday following the home win against Sunderland that led to the sacking of Mick McCarthy.

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