Fletcher urges end to away draws
Darren Fletcher has told his Manchester United team-mates it is time to end the succession of draws that has halted their progress this term.
Although much has been made of the 25-match unbeaten run that stretches back to last season’s title-losing reverse against Chelsea, United have actually failed to win half their games in the Premier League this term.
Their sixth draw of the campaign came in Wednesday’s drab Manchester derby.
Taken in isolation, the result was not too bad, particularly as Sir Alex Ferguson’s side dominated for long periods.
However, in a season when points were tossed away so meekly at Fulham and Everton, it was a costly result that allowed Premier League leaders Chelsea to re-establish a four-point cushion.
Fletcher accepts United need to make up for lost ground, and views the trip to Aston Villa as the perfect place to start.
"People are talking about us not losing but we have drawn too many, especially away from home," said the Scotland skipper.
"We have to start winning our away games if we want to push up this league.
"You can’t afford to draw too many games, otherwise you will get left behind.
"Overall, you would be better winning two games out of three and losing the other one rather than winning one and drawing two.
"That is why we were disappointed on Wednesday.
"We could have got the win and felt we produced a performance good enough to get us one."
Fletcher is certainly right when he points to this fixture as being one United should target.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have not lost at Villa Park since that famous ‘you won’t win anything with kids’ defeat on the opening day of the 1995-96 campaign.
Nine of the 14 Premier League visits since have been won and when you include a succession of FA Cup semi-final successes, it is easy to understand why the Red Devils view the famous Midlands venue as one of their favourite places.
"It is a really good ground to play at," said Fletcher.
"It is a fantastic setting that has a good feel to it.
"The pitch is always good and every match seems like a big occasion.
"You can’t explain why you have a good record at some grounds but not others but the important thing is not to take it for granted.
"We can’t just expect to win because it is Villa Park."
There are still a couple of players affected by the flu virus that has swept round United’s Carrington training complex over the past fortnight but disruption should be nothing like that Ferguson encountered when he was trying to select a side to face Wolves a week ago.
Paul Scholes is suspended and young Brazilian defender Rafael has been ruled out with a dead leg.
There is some good news of Patrice Evra, who returned to training today after injuring his ankle against Manchester City and is expected to be fit.
Fletcher claims he is feeling good too.
Gone are the days when the Scot was regarded as a bit-part player at Old Trafford.
Now the 26-year-old is a senior figure, widely acknowledged as one of the most effective midfielders in the top flight.
He has an impressive engine too and has racked up 16 appearances already this term, 15 of them coming as a member of Ferguson’s starting line-up.
Only skipper Nemanja Vidic can match that, although even after such a gruelling week, there are no complaints.
"I am coping fine and loving every minute," said Fletcher.
"I feel good and my energy levels are good. Because my pre-season was uninterrupted, my fitness is high, so I have not had a problem at all.
"You have to make a conscious effort to be sure your body is ready for each game, but that is easier purely due to the medical facilities we have at the training ground.
"Everyone loves playing and you are certainly not going to hear any complaints from me about too many matches."