Youth keeps its place in Ferguson's Cup squad

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The Independent Football

Sir Alex Ferguson tiptoed his way through Manchester United's disciplinary minefield yesterday and preferred instead to focus on the bright future which awaits the latest battalion of Old Trafford's youth brigade.

On the eve of tonight's Carling Cup tie at West Bromwich, the United manager steered a cautious path round the Football Association fines imposed on Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo on Monday, and was equally reluctant to discuss Sepp Blatter's allegation that Rio Ferdinand should not play until the investigation into his failure to take a drugs test is completed.

David Gill, United's chief executive, launched an immediate rebuttal of Blatter's claims, calling them "incomprehensible" as United were merely abiding by FA rules, a stance Ferguson backed but decided not to elaborate on. "David summed it up fine," Ferguson said. "It is unusual for these kinds of comments to come out and while I don't know if there will be any further dialogue, David has handled it very well."

Blatter will at least get his wish today. Ferdinand is unlikely to play any part at The Hawthorns as United look to advance into the last eight for the second season in succession. Though Wes Brown is almost ready to return after his second cruciate knee ligament operation, reserve games against West Bromwich or Bristol City are more likely options as Ferguson admitted he will check his defensive options.

Elsewhere in the side, the manager will continue his policy of using the tournament to blood his youngsters. Chris Eagles, Danny Pugh, Kieran Richardson and Darren Fletcher have all been highlighted as first-team players of the future and will be in the travelling squad.

There will also be a mixture of experience as Kleberson, Nicky Butt and Eric Djemba-Djemba are likely to be on hand to bolster the visitors' midfield.

"We won the Youth Cup last year and most of those lads are now doing well in the reserve team, which is very encouraging," Ferguson said. "It is a reminder that we can get a group of young players together who can go forward as a unit.

"Chris Eagles made his debut in the previous round at Leeds and did exceptionally well. Kieran Richardson, Darren Fletcher and Danny Pugh are all young players and we are very enthusiastic about their chances.

"Tomorrow night's game is exactly the kind of match we want for them - away from home against a tough team. West Brom are a good side and they will give us a physical test as well as a footballing one. But our young players are very competitive and they will be able to handle it. Hopefully it will be a smashing night."

Gary Megson, the West Bromwich manager, has made it clear he will not be satisfied with simply boosting the club's bank balance against United.

With the game being screened live and a bumper attendance guaranteed, Albion's coffers will be swelled by several hundred thousand pounds. But it is the result on the pitch that matters to Megson, who is seeking to guide the club into the last eight of the cup for the first time since 1982.

Megson said: "It is going to bring in a lot of revenue from TV and the crowd, and that can only be good for the club. Having already played in front of a fantastic crowd at Newcastle in the last round this competition has already been very good to us financially.

"But this is not just about the money. Make no mistake about the fact that we want to get through to the next round. We want to make sure that we go as far as we can in this competition."

While Megson expects United to make changes, he has also not ruled out changes of his own as Albion face a hectic week of three games in seven days. Albion have been boosted by the return to fitness of the striker Scott Dobie. The Scottish international missed last weekend's 3-0 win at Nottingham Forest with a leg injury. The left wing-back Neil Clement comes into the side to take over from the cup-tied Paul Robinson.

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