Fergie joins pitch battle

Alex Ferguson has joined forces with Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger in condemning the Wembley pitch.

Wenger had described the pitch as a “joke” after seeing it cut up as Arsenal lost 2-1 to Chelsea in their FA Cup semi-final on Saturday.

Ferguson’s actions were even more embarrassing for the Football Association as he revealed he had pulled established stars such as Paul Scholes, Dimitar Berbatov and Patrice Evra out of the starting line-up for yesterday’s FA Cup semi-final defeat against Everton because of the state of what should be English football’s premier playing surface.

Ferguson played a makeshift team of youngsters and reserves, who battled to a goalless draw after extra time before losing agonisingly 4-2 in a penalty shootout.

The United manager said: “When I saw the pitch (in the Chelsea v Arsenal semi), what I didn’t want was to go into extra time with my strongest squad.

“It looked spongy and dead and difficult to move the ball quickly around it. They’ve got all these lights around the perimeter to help the growth and the standard of the soil. But it looks dead to me.

“So we had to go with the bold decision of playing the younger ones. After all, our club is built on giving young players opportunities and they didn’t disappoint.

“Once we made our mind up, I was quite enthusiastic about it. It was the right thing to do. It was good for them.”

Ferguson now has to pick up his team for a crucial league match against Portsmouth on Wednesday when Darren Fletcher will be available after injury and the big guns will return, including Wayne Rooney.

Ferguson, however, insists the experience of Wembley, where he made eight changes – including adding three teenagers – to the team that beat Porto in the Champions League last Wednesday, has convinced him United have a strong enough squad to succeed in their quests for the Premier League and Champions League trophies.

He said: “The most important thing is that I now know that, in the run-in, those young players of mine can play in any game, ability-wise.

“(Danny) Welbeck and (Federico) Macheda were absolutely outstanding and that is a big plus point. We have some massive games coming up now and we have the squad to cope with it.”

The semi-final hinged on a 69th-minute decision by referee Mike Riley when he denied United a penalty after Phil Jagielka appeared to bring down Welbeck in the penalty area.

Ferguson suggested doubts might have been planted in Riley’s mind by claims last week he was a United supporter, claims Everton manager David Moyes declined to deny.

“I’ve no idea if it affected the decision but you never know,” said Ferguson. “It may have. It can prey on a referee’s mind.

“I’ve seen the video and it looks a penalty kick but, in the importance of the game, the referee probably has to be dead sure.

“When he (Riley) sees it he’ll probably realise he’s made a mistake but I can’t say that’s the reason for us losing.”

Ferguson, who saw Berbatov and Rio Ferdinand have their spot-kicks saved by former United goalkeeper Tim Howard, also claimed he never believed winning five trophies this season was realistic.

“It’s impossible to think you can do that,” he said. “You need a lot of luck. We’ve had a lot of injuries to defenders.

“If all my players had been fit, you would have to go for it but, realistically, it is very, very difficult.”

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