SAF keen to equal points record

Scotland’s World Cup qualifier in Serbia goes ahead this evening

after the pitch in Novi Sad passed a late inspection.

Heavy snowfall left the surface at the Karadjordje Stadium

blanketed, but a clearing-up operation was organised after meetings

between representatives of the opponents’ Football

Associations.

The pitch was cleared with the help of some travelling

supporters, but with the weather remaining unpredictable a final

inspection was called for 6pm (GMT) – 90 minutes before the

scheduled kick-off.

Match officials quickly gave the go-ahead, and Scotland will

take to the field looking for their first win under Gordon

Strachan.

Strachan’s side go into the game bottom of Group A, two points

behind their hosts, following Friday’s defeat to Wales.

United head into this weekend’s fixtures boasting a 15-point

lead over nearest challengers Manchester City.

It means just four wins and a draw are required from their final

nine games for the Red Devils to claim a 20th championship and end

City’s brief reign as English football’s top dogs.

Yet Ferguson has an additional target to aim for; eclipsing the

mark set by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2004, which in turn would

end any lingering hope City had of hauling back that massive

deficit.

“The record is 95 points by Chelsea,” Ferguson told Sirius

XM.

“If we get to 95 points I would be absolutely delighted. That

would be a fantastic season.

“And if we do get to that position, we have probably won the

league.”

Even if United do not get there, it is hard to see how they

could lose their present advantage.

City’s demise at Everton just before the international break

effectively ended their challenge, with United knowing if they

avoid defeat in the Manchester derby at Old Trafford on April 8,

they will be on track to eclipse their own record 18-point winning

margin from 2000.

It has been the best possible recovery by United after having

the title snatched from their grasp by Sergio Aguero with virtually

the very last kick of the previous campaign.

And one that Ferguson did not expect.

“With Manchester City coming on the scene in the last couple of

years and Chelsea and Arsenal and Tottenham, you have teams vying

for that top four position,” Ferguson said.

“I expected it to be really tight.

“The first point was that after last season, we wanted to make

sure we didn’t lose it on goal difference and that has improved

markedly.

“But I never thought we would be 15 points clear at this stage

of the season.”

It has given Ferguson some leeway with his selections over the

Easter weekend, when United find themselves pitches into two key

games in the space of 48 hours.

Following Saturday’s lunchtime trip to Sunderland – which could

shove United 18 points clear given City are not in action until

slightly later – the Red Devils must prepare for Monday’s FA Cup

quarter-final replay with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

As one of the players not being troubled by international duty,

Rio Ferdinand can expect significant involvement following his

controversial trip to Qatar, whilst Ryan Giggs, Nemanja Vidic and

Anderson should also be fresh.

“Every coach is praying that their players come back fit,” said

Ferguson.

“They played last Friday and they are playing tonight. Once I

know later this evening how many minutes each player has played, I

will start to think about my team for Saturday.

“I have to make sure I have some freshness in the team because

we also have Chelsea on Monday lunchtime.

“It is a big ask for our squad and something we need to

concentrate on because I need to make sure I pick the right

teams.”

Giggs has a significant role to play, having capped his return

to form by signing yet another contract extension that will take

him past his 40th year.

And Ferguson does not believe it will end there for the

remarkable Welshman, who is set to claim his 13th title winners

medal.

“Ryan is an exceptional human being,” said Ferguson.

“He has never carried any weight, has never suffered a serious

injury and never misses a training session. He is still at the head

of the pack during pre-season.

“He just has this insatiable appetite to continue playing.

“He will play next year and who knows he could possibly play for

another year after that.

“I am sure he will get to 41 and still be playing because he is

such a fit lad.”