Ferguson fearful over title defenss

Sir Alex Ferguson has reacted to Manchester United’s 3-0 mauling by

Fulham by admitting they are at risk of conceding the Premier

League title.

A savage injury list that has claimed seven defenders finally

caught up with United as their makeshift three-man rearguard was

overwhelmed at Craven Cottage.

The club had coped admirably with such severely depleted

numbers until Saturday when Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and

Ritchie de Laet were repeatedly exposed by an irresistible Fulham.

Worryingly it was their fifth defeat of the campaign, one

more than they endured throughout last season when they claimed a

third successive Premier League crown.

Ferguson knows United’s defence of their title is teetering

on the brink of collapse and will crumble altogether if the injury

crisis fails to ease.

“The way the league is at the moment I hope this result is

not too damaging. I hope it doesn’t cost us the league,” he told

MUTV.

“We’ll have to get our defenders back to give us a proper

chance of going for the league, there’s no question of that. But if

we get them back we’ll be back in it.

“The quicker they’re back the better. They’re doing their

best. The medical team and physios are working overtime to get them

back.

“There’s no light at the end of the tunnel at the moment,

that’s for sure.”

Fulham boss Roy Hodgson must have rubbed his hands in glee

when United’s teamsheet was delivered – and his side took full

advantage on the pitch.

Spearheaded by the outstanding Bobby Zamora, they outclassed

the champions in every department and finished the match amid

chants of “we want four, we want four” from euphoric home fans.

Danny Murphy smashed home the first in the 22nd minute after

pouncing on an error by Paul Scholes and Zamora rifled in the

second from close range moments into the second half.

It was Zamora’s 10th goal of the season, continuing the

staggering renaissance of a player who just a few weeks ago was

being jeered by a section of his own fans.

The 28-year-old was unplayable at times, a point he proved by

showing remarkable control to set up the third for Damien Duff.

Fulham were rampant, harrying their opponents at every turn

and continually exposing their flimsy defence.

In contrast United were desperately short of inspiration –

Scholes was poor, Wayne Rooney quiet, Anderson and Antonio Valencia

toothless and Michael Owen utterly anonymous.

Ferguson, however, refused to blame his players for the rout.

“There was a fragility at the back and we couldn’t do

anything about that,” said Ferguson.

“You have to have sympathy for the players in that respect.

“It’s difficult to play midfielders at centre back and

Ritchie de Laet is only 21 years of age. He’s not got the

experience yet needed for these type of matches.

“We couldn’t get behind Fulham at all and their defence is

very well organised and it was a difficult day for us.

“The players are maybe feeling a bit sorry for themselves at

the moment because of the situation they’re in.

“But the quality of the football wasn’t as good as it

normally is.

“The fragile nature of the players at the back, with

midfielders playing in defence, has left them feeling sorry for

themselves a bit.”

It was Fulham’s second successive victory over United but

Hodgson is anxious not to get carried away.

“Constant growth shouldn’t be our ambition, our main goal

should be to maintain the standard we’ve set. That takes a lot of

effort,” he said.

“I’m wary of saying we can raise the bar even higher. If

you’re not careful you can stretch things too far and that’s when

they break.

“We’re stretching our players as far as we can and they’re

responding brilliantly to it.

“But I’d like to keep our feet on the ground and put this win

into perspective – it was a great victory but against a Manchester

United missing their first choice back four and goalkeeper.”