Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Season on the Line but Fergie Will Come out Fighting

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Season on the Line but Fergie Will Come out Fighting

Article excerpt

Byline: MICHAEL HART

IF SIR ALEX FERGUSON'S empire is crumbling someone should tell him.

You might think that he was feeling a little sorry for himself after recent events but, as he embarked upon the most critical period in his season, he found time to ensure that the match programme for tomorrow's FA Cup quarterfinal against Fulham contained generous praise for the club's supporters.

"I was proud of the way they observed the minute's silence for John Charles against Leeds and I want them to know how I feel," he said. "I can't remember when I last felt so proud of them."

Attention to such detail is just one of the reasons why the Ferguson empire at Old Trafford remains a monument to stability. The game's most successful manager will not be knocked off his pedestal easily.

But two bad results in the next week could bring United's season to a premature halt - a rare occurrence during Ferguson's 18-year reign. Since the creation of the Premiership in 1992-93, United have finished empty-handed on only three occasions.

This would be a fourth if Fulham knock them out of the FA Cup and Porto, leading 2-1 from the first leg, eliminate them from the Champions League at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

Trailing Arsenal by nine points, the defending champions then visit neighbours City, who face their own fight, to avoid relegation. It is not a comforting scenario.

"It is an important time," he conceded. "Big games coming up - and we have to look at them positively. We're one match away from the FA Cup semi-finals and one match away from the Champions League quarterfinals."

The FA Cup has never been high in United's list of priorities. They even failed to defend the trophy in 2000 when the Football Association, with their World Cup 2006 bid at stake, felt it more important that United play in FIFA's World Club Championship in Brazil. …

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