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By ESPN Staff

Relegation-threatened trio dismiss Man Utd suit

Relegation-haunted north-east trio Newcastle United, Middlesbrough and Sunderland have dismissed claims they could sue Manchester United if they field a weakened team this weekend.

Reports today suggested the three clubs had held discussions as they prepare for a decisive final round of Premier League fixtures on Sunday with the highest of stakes.

Hull City, who are currently a point clear of 18th-placed Newcastle inside the drop zone, face United at the KC Stadium four days before the newly-crowned domestic title-holders defend their Champions League crown against Barcelona in Rome.

Sir Alex Ferguson has already indicated he will use the depth of his squad with nothing but pride at stake for his club.

Middlesbrough, who face West Ham United at Upton Park, need the Tigers to lose if they are to have a chance of staying up, while the Magpies have to record a better result than Phil Brown's men if they are to survive.

Sunderland could go down if they lose to Chelsea and both Newcastle and Hull win, meaning all three of the north-east clubs have a vested interest in the side Ferguson sends out.

However, each were quick to deny they are ready to go to the courts on the basis of Premier League rules which require member clubs to field full-strength teams.

Middlesbrough chief executive Keith Lamb told the club's official website, "Manchester United will pick their team, no one else. There have been no talks between Middlesbrough and any other club about what side Manchester United may field on Sunday.''

Sunderland and Newcastle have also insisted there is no truth in the claims, with Black Cats boss Ricky Sbragia confident that whatever side Ferguson selects, United will set out to win the game.

That is a view with which Boro's assistant boss, Malcolm Crosby, agrees.

He said: "Sir Alex is entitled to put out whatever team he likes because he is the manager of Manchester United.

"He knows he has a massive game ahead in the Champions League, so we cannot complain if they put a weaker team out.

"In saying that, weaker Manchester United teams are not too bad!

"He wants to win, I'm sure his players are the same. The young players they have got are tremendous players and there's nothing to say they can't go there and beat Hull.''

A Newcastle spokesman said: ''There's no truth in it whatsoever,'' Sunderland refused to comment on the story, but insisted there was no foundation to it.

Newcastle boss Alan Shearer was asked about the kind of side he expected Ferguson to field at Hull in the immediate aftermath of Saturday's 1-0 home defeat by Fulham.

He said: ''Alex, when he has been in that position, has always put out a side that does his club proud, so whoever he puts out, Manchester United are that professional so they will go out and try to win that game. I have not got any problems with that.''

On Wednesday Ferguson hinted that England defender Rio Ferdinand could yet play at the KC Stadium as he attempts to prove his fitness ahead of the Champions League final.

The 30-year-old has missed the club's last three games with a calf injury, but could be involved at the weekend.


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