Lucky United still on course for five trophies
Sir Alex Ferguson said Manchester United were lucky to still be on course for five trophies this season after their shock 1-0 League Cup semi-final, first leg defeat against Derby County.
The Manchester United manager was punished by the side languishing 18th in the Championship for fielding a vastly-weakened side, with only Serbian Nemanja Vidic and Paul Scholes beginning the game decided by Kris Commons' wonderful 30th minute goal.
Ferguson clearly had one eye on Sunday's crucial Premier League meeting with rivals Chelsea at Old Trafford and that was part of his team thinking but even the 60th minute double substitution of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney could not prevent overwhelming favourites United from slipping to their fourth defeat of the season against the side that was relegated from the Premier League eight months ago with 11 points, the worst total ever recorded.
Such was the depressing nature of United's lethargic performance, Ferguson cannot wait for the return leg on January 20th and is delighted to still be in with a chance of claiming a place in the final on Sunday, March 1. "Only losing 1-0 was a fantastic result for us considering the performance," he said.
"We could have lost four goals. It's a fantastic result for us now and going to Old Trafford now it will be different. We just did not play well and over-worried about their crossing and set pieces and we were panicky at the back."
Despite the heavy workload ahead for his side, Ferguson insists he will not be recalling all his big-name players for the second leg and refused to criticise youngsters like Darron Gibson and Danny Wellbeck, who will be given another chance to make amends.
"I think we will persevere with the younger players. I thought they were our better performers. We were lucky only to lose 1-0 and in a semi-final you need that bit of luck. Gibson was one of our better performers and Wellbeck did not get the service in the game so it is unfair to judge him," added Ferguson.
Clough will not even formally meet his new squad until Thursday after agreeing to take charge of the club that his father served with such distinction for six years and won the old First Division title in 1972, but he clearly has a touch of the Brian Clough magic.
Ferguson was quick to privately congratulate his opponents and shared a glass of wine with Clough junior after the game, who merely popped his head around the door of the home dressing room prior to kick off. He will start work along side his assistant and former Nottingham Forest team mate Gary Crosby, preparing for Saturday's trip to face Cardiff City. Youth team coach David Lowe, who was promoted to take the side, while Clough watched alongside chairman Adam Pearson in the directors box.
Reaching the semi-final stage cost Commons almost 1,000 in purchasing tickets for his friends, but the fulminating 25-yard shot he guided beyond United's Polish keeper after 30 minutes was pure gold dust for David Lowe, elevated from youth team coach to temporary Derby manager for the evening said: "Sir Alex congratulated all of us and he stayed for a drink, but Nigel was doing the entertaining."
The last time Clough took a side to Old Trafford the temerity of his non-league Burton Albion side forcing a 0-0 draw in the third round of the FA Cup was punished with five-goal humiliation, but that is where he wants to compete regularly after accepting the challenge of managing the side where his father won the old First Division title in 1972 en route to iconic status.
What his dad, who died in 2004 from stomach cancer, would have made of it all was a question Clough was expecting: "I haven't got the foggiest to be honest. I just wish he was still around to give me some advice," said Clough.