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
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."