Injury crisis mars United's semi-final win
Manchester United booked a place in the Carling Cup final on Tuesday night with a 4-3 aggregate win over Derby County, but a raft of fresh injuries meant victory came at a steep price for Sir Alex Ferguson.
United could be without Rafael for at least a month after he sustained a torn hamstring, Brazilian midfielder Anderson left the pitch on a stretcher after suffering an ankle injury and Nani, Gary Neville and Jonny Evans all picked up knocks.
With an FA Cup fourth round tie coming on Saturday against Tottenham Hotspur, Sir Alex Ferguson, already without Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown, Wayne Rooney and Patrice Evra, admitted the situation was not ideal.
''There are probably six or seven of them who have picked up injuries,'' confirmed the United manager. ''It has been a bad night in that respect''.
''We finished with 10 men but it was effectively nine because Jonny was in great discomfort. We will just have to see what happens now.''
Darren Fletcher is almost certain to be called on as a makeshift right-back, while Fabio might be handed his senior debut against Spurs if Neville does not make it.
It took the gloss off victory in an entertaining contest, as Nani, John O'Shea and Carlos Tevez scored before half-time and, although Giles Barnes found the net twice for Derby, Cristiano Ronaldo split them with a penalty of his own - ending a barren run in domestic combat that stretched back to November 15 - to ensure the Red Devils made it through.
Derby boss Nigel Clough was not too downhearted either given his team's performance had been a vast improvement on their shoddy effort against QPR at the weekend.
''The first goal knocked the stuffing out of us; 30 yards in the top corner you can't do much about those,'' he said. ''Defending the second and third goals was disappointing but it was a vast improvement on Saturday - even the first half.
''It would be very easy to give up the ghost but we showed a bit of character, which after Saturday was what we were looking for.''
After the game Ferguson vowed to stick with his youngsters for the Carling Cup final at the beginning of March.
And they can all bank on retaining their spots as United compete in their 14th domestic final of Ferguson's reign.
''They will all play in the final,'' said Ferguson. ''They deserve to. It is always a great occasion at Wembley but the only way you can really enjoy it is by winning.''