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 Posted by ESPN Staff
Sep 9, 2006

Ferguson hoping to exorcise memories of last season

Sir Alex Ferguson is crossing his fingers the painful memory of last season's Champions League humiliation will ensure Manchester United do not suffer similar anguish this time around.

For the first time in a decade United tumbled out in the group stage, failing to even to secure the safety net of a UEFA Cup place after scoring a paltry three times in six games.

Although the scars from that embarrassment have healed, the memories still remain.

So, when Scottish champions Celtic head south for the first competitive meeting between Britain's best two supported clubs on Wednesday, Ferguson is hoping an obvious desire to avoid a repeat will help focus minds in the home dressing room.

'If someone had told me this time last year we would have finished bottom of our group, I would never have believed them,' said Ferguson.

'We lacked experience at vital times, particularly when we played Lille in Paris last October but the players will certainly not want to be reminded of the feelings they experienced when we went out of the competition in Lisbon.

'No-one likes bad memories but good footballers should always look at situations like that and say 'I do not want that to happen again'. The legacy of the miserable night against Benfica, when United bowed out despite taking an early lead through Paul Scholes is a one-match ban for Cristiano Ronaldo, which rules the young Portugal winger out of this week's clash that brings Ferguson into direct conflict with a club he enjoyed so much success against during his Aberdeen days.

His inner loyalty to former club Rangers led to a steadfast refusal to call it a showdown between Britain's big two.

In fact, the United boss would prefer it if the England-Scotland references were abandoned altogether.

'We have to dismiss the whole Scotland-England thing,' he said.

'If we go down that road, we will only make it harder for ourselves because you can get caught up in the emotion of the occasion.

'I want us to rely on our ability and the experience we have in European games, particularly at Old Trafford.'

Although the two sides have been frequent opponents down the years, playing nine testimonial games during Ferguson's time at United alone, he knows Wednesday will be something different.

The presence of 6,000 visiting fans among a capacity crowd are sure to generate a high-octane atmosphere comparable to any seen at Old Trafford down the years.

And Ferguson will be hoping for the same type of result he enjoyed when Rangers headed over the border three years ago and suffered a three-goal hammering.

'A few years ago I was saying I had been in Europe so long and never drawn a Scottish team,' he recalled.

'Then we got Rangers, now we have got Celtic, so I don't need to worry about it any more.

'Even though it is 20 years since I was last involved in a competitive game against Celtic, I still have some great memories of matches against them. Aberdeen had a great record against them, although we had a great record against everybody.'

Ferguson knows his affiliation to the other half of the Old Firm means he could receive plenty of stick from the visiting fans on Wednesday.

However, booing and jeering is water of a duck's back to the battle-hardened Scot who, while accepting his side will start favourites to beat the team managed by his old adversary Gordon Strachan, does not feel Celtic's underdog status prevents them from being viewed as serious contenders for the competition.

'You cannot underestimate any team which has such history and resource behind them,' he said.

'You only have to go back three years to them reaching the UEFA Cup Final, beating Blackburn and Liverpool deservedly along the way. 'That was a phenomenal achievement and shows you the motivation Martin O'Neill gave to that side.

'Celtic have a chance of qualifying from this group, there is no question about that.

'You only have to look at what happened to us last year to realise anything is possible in football.'