Dong set to feature for United
China forward Dong Fangzhuo could make his Manchester United debut in Saturday's FA Cup quarter-final at Middlesbrough.
Dong has been called into the first team squad as United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has a lengthy injury list, with strikers Louis Saha and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer out injured until the end of the month, along with Darren Fletcher and Mikael Silvestre.
With Swedish international Henrik Larsson playing his last competitive game for the club at the Riverside, Ferguson confirmed that Dong will finally have his chance to taste senior football more than three years since he arrived at Old Trafford.
"He has needed some really hard work," said Ferguson. "But he has had a couple of reserve games now. He'll come into the squad.
"He's got some terrific attributes. He is lightning quick, has a marvelous physique and is a very athletic boy. He'll be added to the squad."
Dong, 22, spent two years on loan in Belgium with Royal Antwerp because of work permit complications in England and, in his first season with the club, was the league's top scorer with 17 goals, and scored 35 goals in 61 games during his time at Antwerp.
The forward, signed from Dalian Shihide, played for United on their 2005 Asian tour, scoring in a 2-0 victory over a Hong Kong XI, and was also on the mark in last summer's friendly visit to South Africa as United beat the Kaizer Chiefs 1-0.
Despite the call-up of such a fringe player, Ferguson insisted his injury situation was not as bad as it seemed a few days earlier.
"For a couple of days, it started to seem like the roof had fallen on top of us," said Ferguson. "But it's not so bad. Things are much brighter."
French international striker Saha is now expected to be back from his hamstring injury by the time United face Blackburn at the end of the month, the game penciled in for Solskjaer's comeback.
Fletcher is making a quicker than expected recovery from an ankle injury while Silvestre's shoulder dislocation did not involve any broken bones although it would appear his season is at an end.
To complicate matters further, midfielder Paul Scholes begins a three-match suspension on Saturday although Ferguson also chose to look upon the bright side over his absence.
"The little break might be good for him because he will get that freshness back for the run-in," said Ferguson. "At 32-years-old he has been unbelievable in midfield this season but, perverse as it may be, there is some joy in this. It could turn out to be a good break for him and us."
With all United's personnel problems, Alan Smith is likely to enjoy extended first team exposure and is even in line to possibly start his first FA Cup game for the club since he joined in May 2004.
"His training performances have been very good," said Ferguson of Smith. "What we haven't given him is games and he'll be delighted with the game he had on Wednesday."
Ferguson also confirmed that on-going contract talks with Cristiano Ronaldo are progressing well, an important consideration given the growing attention being paid by Spanish clubs on the Portruguese international winger.
"We've been negotiating for a few weeks now," said Ferguson. "That's what 'negotiation' means. It means there is to-and-fro and eventually there is a little bit of compromise along the way. That's where we want to get to.
"The boy wants to stay here, he's at the right club, there is no doubt about that. The boy has been fantastic for us and both parties hope we come to that agreement where the boy stays here for the next few years.
"He shouldn't want to go anywhere else, he is at the right club."