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Ferguson calls on fighting spirit

Sir Alex Ferguson believes Manchester United's famed refusal to give in is the reason they are currently on top of the Premier League and says that same quality can see them avoid an exit from the Europa League on Thursday.

• Valencia set for Bilbao return
• Preview: Athletic Bilbao v Man Utd

Manchester United bowed out of the Champions League against Basel and must overcome Athletic Bilbao in Spain to remain in the Europa League after losing the first leg 3-2 at Old Trafford. Ferguson's men will now need to show their resilience in order to book a place in the last eight of the competition.

"We have done really well to hang in there," said Ferguson. "That is more or less what we have done no matter what the team has been.

"For instance, with (Phil) Jones and (Chris) Smalling not available that's a door slamming in the face again. But we keep carrying on and it does point to a resilience in the team that is really admirable.

"They have done exceptionally well. It's an achievement in the sense of they're still banging in there in the league. Yes, there was the disappointment in the Champions League but we still can win this game tomorrow and I think the players believe that."

Unlike Jones, who has stayed back in Manchester after being laid low by a flu virus, Smalling has travelled to the Basque region of Spain but will not be risked from the start after re-opening a nasty head wound in last week's first-leg defeat.

On the two occasions United have lost the first leg of a European knockout tie on home soil, they have also been beaten in the return, against Bayern Munich in 2001 and AC Milan four years later.

"It's a difficult tie for us," said Ferguson. "Bilbao have a tremendous advantage now, so it's a challenge - but not one that is beyond us.

"Our record away from home in Europe helps us. We have done really well the last few years away from home but it's going to need a good performance."

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