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Defoe can be Sunderland's saviour

Sunderland
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Fergie: Ferdinand will ''step up'' after run of poor form

Sir Alex Ferguson has admitted Rio Ferdinand is going through the most difficult patch of his Manchester United career, but has backed the defender to ''step up'' when he has a few more games under his belt.

Although there have been odd blips since his £29.1 million move from Leeds in 2002, Ferdinand has largely maintained the form that has seen him viewed as one of the world's best defenders. Yet, over the last few months, Ferdinand has struggled.

His casual flick allowed Martin Petrov to send Craig Bellamy charging through to score City's third equaliser in that incredible Manchester derby last month, while on the international scene he has also been guilty of lapses that have cost England dearly.

Ferguson has conceded it is the first time he can remember Ferdinand going through such extended torment.

''He has not had spells like this since he joined the club,'' reflected Ferguson. ''It is an unusual experience for him but he will get through it I am sure of that.''

Ferguson has claimed Ferdinand is now clear of the back injury sustained during last season's Club World Cup in Japan, but acknowledges the defender's frequent absences are a contributory factor in his present travails.

''Games will help Rio,'' said Ferguson. ''Missing games takes the rhythm away. Getting it back is the challenge now. I am sure he has taken the criticism on board. I don't know whether it is over-confidence but there has always been a casual part of Rio's game since he was a kid.

''It has been an advantage to him at times. At others, particularly in his younger days, it was a weakness. But along with his development and maturity, it has brought about some outstanding form over quite a long time for us.

''All players worry about their form if they are getting criticism,'' said Ferguson. ''They have to. They wouldn't be human if they didn't. We all go through little phases where we have to correct our game or take it a step up. I am sure Rio will do that.''

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