Manchester United preview: Sir Alex Ferguson hopes to wipe out bad memories of the match that won and then lost him the title as he heads back to Sunderland


Click to follow
The Independent Online

Manchester United return to Sunderland tomorrow with Sir Alex Ferguson feeling his players have delivered the best possible response to their last-day title trauma.

As the final whistle blew on their campaign at the Stadium of Light last season, United were technically champions.

Seconds later, to the glee of the Sunderland fans who had stayed to see the drama unfold, Sergio Aguero scored the goal that changed the course of history.

At the time, such was the nature of that shattering experience, it was wondered whether United would recover.

With Ferguson in charge, it probably should never have been questioned.

“These things are hard to take,” said Ferguson.

“For about 20 seconds we thought we had won it and it was snatched away from us.

“But what we have done well this season is dusted ourselves down and made a real good challenge of the league.

“The concentration levels, the commitment of the players and the team spirit have been fantastic.

“In that respect we have answered the only way we can.”

The anger Ferguson felt at the Sunderland fans' over-the-top celebrations has evidently subsided, meaning there is no talk of revenge as United look to claim three of the 13 points from nine remaining fixtures to clinch title number 20.

“I don't have any issues with the Sunderland fans,” he said.

“I don't think Sunderland fans wanted Manchester City to win it any more than we did.

“It goes back to modern society. You see it from supporters every week. In a corner, wherever your supporters are, the opposing fans vent their spleen to each other.

“That is what happens in modern-day football.”

Ferguson was able to report no fresh injury concerns after the international break, confirming Nani, Paul Scholes and Phil Jones had recovered from their problems.

His only issues were the extended travelling undertaken by Javier Hernandez and Antonio Valencia, however he had sympathy for opposite number Martin O'Neill.

In charge of a Sunderland side who are just four points clear of the drop zone and on a woeful run of form, O'Neill could have done without losing top-scorer Steven Fletcher to an ankle injury that will keep him out for the rest of the season.

“It looked like a bad one the way the player landed,” said Ferguson, of the incident in Scotland's defeat to Wales last Friday.

“It wasn't nice to see and is a blow for Martin, particularly when you are in that dog fight at the bottom, because without doubt Fletcher is a key player in terms of goals.”

Ferguson has often spoken of the difficulty teams fighting the drop have in clawing their way out of trouble.

It is no different now, with Wigan's recent win over Newcastle leaving so many anxiously looking over their shoulders.

"It is not an easy position to be in,” he said.

“And the horrible part is that good teams do go down in these situations.

“Nottingham Forest, with Pearce, Keane, Clough and Walker, had a team of internationals and still went down.

“It is very difficult to get a run of wins. The average points you can get from the start of January is about 1.5 per game, and in some cases, you don't get anywhere near that.”

Ferguson has not had to worry about such matters for many years.

Now his only difficulty is working out which players he should use tomorrow and those needed to be held back for Monday's FA Cup quarter-final replay at Chelsea.

Robin van Persie could be involved in both, and after three goals in two games for Holland, the former Arsenal man is set to end the campaign in the same stellar manner he began it after a period of seven games without a goal.

“When strikers get into a little dry spell they hope to get out of it as quickly as they can,” said Ferguson.

“Hopefully those goals for Holland will have helped him to do that.

“His form has not changed. That is the important thing.”