Vidic boost enough for Ferguson

Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is ready to welcome Nemanja Vidic back to his starting line-up and would be satisfied if the Serbian was the only man available to ease his injury-ravaged defence.

In total, Ferguson was without 14 senior men for last night's Champions League encounter with Wolfsburg, eight of them defenders.

Yet the Red Devils made light of the handicap, beating the German champions 3-1 at the Volkswagen Arena thanks to Michael Owen's hat-trick.

Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher joined Patrice Evra in an unrecognisable three-man defence and the midfielders seem set to remain in post as Wes Brown's hamstring injury is not responding to treatment.

Yet Ferguson is unconcerned about the on-going problems, even though high-flying Aston Villa visit Old Trafford on Saturday.

"I expect Vidic to be fit and if he is available we would have him and Michael Carrick, plus Darren Fletcher and Patrice Evra," he said. "I would be happy enough with that."

Ferguson also expects to have Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney and Dimitar Berbatov available to face Martin O'Neill's men, who have once again moved to the fringes of a top-four place.

That might mean a quick relegation back to the substitutes' bench for Owen, who marked a rare start by converting his first Champions League treble since 2003.

Although it might have come too late to allow him to challenge for a spot in Fabio Capello's World Cup squad, it was proof he still retains his old finisher's instinct, with Ferguson admitting Owen has a huge part to play this term.

"It was a fantastic performance. Michael's finishing and positional play were superb," said the United boss.

"I made the point some weeks ago that his training performances have improved steadily. I have had no worries about him.

"Obviously in some games recently we have only played with one striker and Wayne Rooney has been it. Here we used a different system.

"The evidence of a player is always on the football field and Michael has given us that this evening. He has proved his worth and I am delighted with his performance."

It is hard to pick a United player who did not exceed expectations and the fact it was only their third away win in 10 attempts against German opposition indicates just what a milestone it was.

Victory ensures United will face a runner-up in the knock-out phase next spring. But while potential opponents already include AC Milan and Bayern Munich, playing the decisive second leg at Old Trafford should help.

It also means United avoided getting embroiled in what is sure to be a prolonged squabble over the failed drugs tests of two CSKA Moscow players, Alexei Berezutsky and Sergei Ignashevich, following their 3-3 draw with the Red Devils last month.

Although the defensive duo were suspended as CSKA beat Besiktas in Istanbul last night, it is the Russian side who should advance ahead of Wolfsburg.

However, UEFA regulations provide the power for expulsion and a disciplinary hearing is set for December 17 - the day before the last 16 draw - to determine the outcome, with Wolfsburg coach Armin Veh offering a very astute observation.

"This mess will take weeks to sort out," he said.

"It is not a matter for me to comment on but for Uefa and we can only hope they will take the right decision."

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