United will not be distracted, says Pleat

Tottenham look to end torrid run of form while Bolton's Frenchman prepares to make life difficult for friend and compatriot
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The Independent Football

David Pleat expects Manchester United to shrug off the distraction of Rio Ferdinand's hearing into his missed drugs test when they visit White Hart Lane tomorrow.

The England defender is set to learn the verdict of the Football Association's independent commission before the sides meet in North London. But the Tottenham caretaker-manager has warned his players not to expect the Premiership champions to arrive distracted by events off the field.

"I very much doubt Rio's case takes the focus off their preparations," Pleat said. "There's always an issue of some sort at the biggest clubs. We've just got to hope they've had lots of Christmas parties this week. If Rio plays, he plays. I just hope he doesn't play well if he does.

"I believe whenever we've had a drugs test, the testers and various other people at the club make sure that person doesn't go home," he added. "I would have had my player here.

"The testers just hit you and select three players at random. It could be a youth player, it could be anyone. We've never had a problem. If we had a league table for drug test availability, Tottenham would be in the top three."

Spurs have endured a torrid run-up to tomorrow's fixture, losing 4-0 to Newcastle last weekend before tumbling out of the Carling Cup on penalties to Middlesbrough, causing Pleat to question his players' ability. But he believes such a high-profile game against one of the title favourites provides the perfect chance for a quick response despite Tottenham's poor record against United.

"It's a hard game to restore our fortunes," he said. "I think they've done the double over us in the last two seasons, but it's not a tricky fixture, it's a lovely Christmas present. My players should enjoy playing against United.

"They are the other top five team in the country we've yet to play. We've played Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Newcastle now, and so we'll be able to make a judgement afterwards about who's going to win the championship, won't we?

"I look at players on three things: attitude, application and ability. I don't doubt the first two. We couldn't kill Middlesbrough off and we couldn't get the final ball precise enough. But I genuinely think they've had an unlucky week so far."

With Dean Richards struggling with a knee injury, Pleat could have recalled Ledley King from his midfield role to deal with the threat of Ruud van Nistelrooy, who has 19 goals for club and country already this season. But the task of marking him will go to the former striker Gary Doherty instead, despite Pleat having to look no further than the security guard at Tottenham's Chigwell training ground for a warning of the Dutchman's ability.

"Three years ago the Dutch team came to train here before playing against England and our security man watched them," Pleat said. "He told me in all his time here he'd never seen anyone finish as well as that and said 'Put your money on him to win the golden boot'. He didn't do it but he did it the following season.

"When you've got a prolific goalscorer who takes his chances, it gets the tails up and does wonders for your confidence. But I'm not tempted to drop King back into defence. I'm pleased with Gary, he seems to have settled into the centre-back's role. He may mark Van Nistelrooy. But I can't reassure him everything is going to be all right - he's got to make it all right."