Gary Neville is facing a battle to play again this season after suffering another setback in his bid to overcome a long-term ankle injury.

The Manchester United captain has not played for the Premiership champions since limping out of a league game against Bolton last March with an ankle knock suffered in a challenge with Wanderers midfielder Gary Speed.

Despite a series of planned comeback dates, the 32-year-old has so far managed only one reserve outing for United since suffering the initial injury.

A plan for him to return to first-team action against AS Roma in the Champions League next week has been aborted and Neville is now facing an uncertain future with Old Trafford manager Sir Alex Ferguson admitting that he has been forced to see a specialist about the problem.

Ferguson said: "I won't be taking Gary Neville to Rome. He has unfortunately had another setback and we are disappointed at that.

"It's his ankle again, so he has gone back to the specialist for another look at it, so you can't be positive on that one at all.

"It's not a serious thing that has happened, but it's a setback and it's a niggle again. When you have had a bad injury and been operated on, which Gary's was six or seven months ago, and you are still not back, then it is a concern.

"He keeps getting these little setbacks every time that he is ready to play, so it's a disappointment and hopefully we can sort it out and get him back."

United face Premiership bottom club Derby at Old Trafford on Saturday with title rivals Liverpool and Arsenal already having subjected the promoted outfit to 6-0 and 5-0 defeats respectively this season.

The Rams are under new management, however, in the shape of former Wigan boss Paul Jewell and Ferguson admits that United cannot afford any slip-ups against the Premiership whipping boys.

He said: "Paul Jewell is a likeable and bubbly character and he did a fantastic job at Wigan, but he has moved on to Derby and it is a club with a fantastic history.

"They have had some great players over the years and Brian Clough won a league championship there in the 1970s, so it is a different challenge for Paul to tackle.

"He will take his time and hope for money to get a few new players in January, but they are in a dire position at the moment, it has to be said.

"December is a crucial month in the title race, though, and by the end of it, we will all know who is going to be challenging for the league. Points will be dropped here and there before the end of the month, but it's important that we are near the top on January 1.

"Once we are into the second half of the season, we can hopefully then progress and take steps towards winning the league again.

"Liverpool and Chelsea have recovered terrifically from difficult periods, though, and they are right up there challenging again, so it is going to be an interesting race."