Sir Alex Ferguson will count the cost of the illness that has swept through the Manchester United camp tomorrow as he prepares for a crucial period in his club's efforts to win back the league title from Chelsea.
Ferguson, who marked his 24th anniversary in charge at Old Trafford with a dramatic late 2-1 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers yesterday, has described the attempted comeback of English international Owen Hargreaves as a "disaster". The United manager was forced to recall Hargreaves for his first start since September 2008 because of the sickness affecting his squad, but the former England midfielder lasted just four minutes before limping off with what appeared to be a hamstring injury.
"This morning we had to make changes - Patrice Evra, [Paul] Scholes, Nemanja Vidic they were under the weather," Ferguson said. "I took a gamble throwing on Owen Hargreaves. He's been training really well, I thought with doing that it could give us a compact midfield. But he only lasted a couple of minutes. It was a disaster.
"Nemanja has done really well to play, Patrice has battled through and I only wanted to use Scholes if I really needed to. When he came on he really did well. It was a long struggle. We had to make changes; some players were playing with a touch of flu, some with diarrhea, things like that. We did really well to get a result like that."
United were already without Portuguese winger Nani, injured in the midweek UEFA Champions League win over Bursaspor, and with the Manchester derby looming at Eastlands on Wednesday, Ferguson will want to check on his fitness, along with that of Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov, another illness victim.
"We've got a big programme coming up," Ferguson said. "We've got City and then Chelsea and Arsenal in successive weeks. The games are piling up. I don't think Nani will be fit for Wednesday but we are hoping that Berbatov will be in on Monday to train. We will have to have a look at it."
However, speculation will be rife that Hargreaves' career may well be over, a fear that Ferguson hinted at only a few days earlier, after the sad way in which his latest comeback from knee problems ended so sadly.
The day might have been even more miserable for Ferguson who saw Park Ji-Sung give his team the lead on the stroke of half-time before United were pegged back by an equaliser from substitute Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. The South Korean midfielder scored his second goal, stretching United's unbeaten run to 25 games in the process, in the third minute of four minutes of injury time.
"We've seen it so many times," said Ferguson of the late winner. "You have to admire the perseverance of the team, their never-say-die spirit. We lacked experience up front. We lacked players who can make a difference, players who you need to break down a team like Wolves. But Park has done really well for us and he has been playing well recently. We needed that performance from him."
Wolves manager Mick McCarthy saw few consolations in the result, despite his team's impressive showing. "It was harsh," he said. "You all know we deserved something out of the game but we've got nil, nowt, diddly-squat. It was a good performance but it doesn't mean anything. As a hard-nosed professional, I want to win football matches. We gave it away. We could have defended their goals much better.
"This game is about getting points. I could wax lyrical about our performance but I'm not going to do it. When you play as well as we have done and then lose, it can actually do damage to us."