Jan Molby

Fergie fury masks United failings

Jan Molby

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I don't think we should be too surprised by Sir Alex Ferguson's outburst on Saturday when he claimed the four added minutes given at Old Trafford was an "insult." I think it was designed with the purpose of taking away attention from what was a poor performance, particularly in the first half.

Given the fact that injury time at Old Trafford has come to be nicknamed 'Fergie time' there was certainly some irony in the fact that it was the Manchester United manager complaining about the duration of the added time at the weekend. United getting ample added time goes back to that famous Sheffield Wednesday game in 1993 when Steve Bruce scored twice in injury time.

He knows exactly what he is doing. He doesn't want any attention on this Manchester United team's performances on the pitch at the moment because he has to look after his players until January. I think he knows that if they can hang on until January he might be able to purchase a new midfielder, but until then he just has to make do and ensure their confidence is as high as possible. But at the moment they just aren't playing well.

This diversionary tactic is not a new one. Managers have been doing it for years and years and just three years ago we saw the same man describe Alan Wiley as unfit to take the focus off a poor 2-2 home draw with Sunderland. We should never be surprised. He has been in the game for so long and knows exactly what is needed at certain times.

Last week he gave praise for the performance at Anfield which was probably unmerited and this week it was the referee's fault that they lost at home. He plays a very clever game and is only interested in what is best for Manchester United. Fergie has seen plenty of title-winning teams and he knows that to take this one close he has to molly-coddle them and make sure they remain positive. He has got a big, big job on his hands.

Ferguson was clutching at straws and it was a comment designed to distract people from the fact that he started Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Michael Carrick in midfield. You can field that trio against top teams. You might get away with it against lesser sides but against the bigger boys you need more mobility.

If you are in any doubt as to what United's problems are, look at Spurs' second goal on Saturday as Gareth Bale sauntered through the heart of midfield to score. That tells you exactly where the problems are and where they are likely to remain for some time.

When the midfield can't offer the defence the protection that they need then eventually the defence get exposed. United can be a well-organised unit when they defend on the edge of the 18-yard box as they did for long spells against Liverpool.

But obviously playing at home they are less likely to adopt that strategy and now teams are getting braver and braver as they know they can run their midfield and they sense that when they play. Fulham gave them a run for their money and Spurs ran them ragged: teams are sensing a weakness and they will get at them.

They will eventually get through that midfield because it is quite easy these days. You used to have to get through the likes of Paul Ince, Bryan Robson or Roy Keane but that is no longer the case. And when you get to the back four they are not as solid as they used to be either. The way Jan Vertonghen and Bale skipped away from Rio Ferdinand has to be a worry because he is going to find himself in plenty of situations like that this season. There are real opportunities for away teams to expose United.

At the core of Ferguson's comments there is a legitimate point about added time. I don't know how you would solve it as you can't just stop the clock when the ball goes out of play as games would last forever. But there is a concern that time-wasting deprives teams of a chance to win. There is too much of the 90 minutes when the ball is not in play. As a supporter you don't know how much added time there will be and even when they put the board up that represents the minimum amount of time to be added.

But let's get thing one thing straight: United didn't lose that game because only four minutes were added. They lost it because Spurs scored three goals at Old Trafford.

If you look at the United game you can probably find slightly more than four minutes to be added on but we don't know exactly when the referee stops his watch, do we? It is a grey area. Ferguson talked about six substitutions, but that wasn't quite true as one was a double change and one happened at half-time and you can't add time on for that.

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