Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson has defended Wolverhampton Wanderers boss Mick McCarthy for sending out a weakened side against the Premier League champions.
Wolves lost 3-0 at Old Trafford on Tuesday and McCarthy was widely criticised and asked by the Premier League to explain why he had made ten changes to the team that had beaten Tottenham Hotspur the previous Saturday.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger added his voice to the debate by saying he now only had 37 games in which to compete with United, instead of 38, because of McCarthy's actions. Ferguson made light of that on Friday, with a joke at Wenger's expense.
"I wish we were playing him over two games...the last two," he told reporters. "I think Mick McCarthy did the right thing for Wolves Football Club.
"We looked at their performance at Tottenham and we thought they would make six changes, with the amount of running they had to do on the Saturday against Tottenham and then travelling up to Manchester on the Tuesday.
"So we weren't far wrong. Of course, we didn't expect ten changes but there wasn't any discernible difference between the Wolves team that could have played and the team that did play on Tuesday."
McCarthy, meanwhile, has hit back at his critics. He said: ''I have got more integrity and honesty in that little finger than most of those who are accusing me. Whoever it is, I am not bothered. I go through the season and I complain not one jot about anybody.
''I try my best not to complain, I try my best not to get involved in anyone else's politics or football club or anything like that and I am not going to get involved.
''It is laughable. I have had lots of messages of support, not because anyone thinks I need it because of the decisions that I made, but because of some of the ridiculous, scathing, outrageous comments that have been made about me and what I did.''
With his tongue firmly in his cheek, McCarthy added: ''I had a lovely letter from Tiger Woods thanking me for taking the pressure off him. I believe he is now driving round Florida in an open top car singing 'super Mick McCarthy'. My latest email is from Thierry Henry who seems to think I have taken the heat off him as well.''
Indeed, while McCarthy believes most of the attacks on him have been unwarranted, the only person he feels does have a right to complain has already offered his support.
''The one person who has the right to bleat at me is (Burnley boss) Owen Coyle,'' said the former Sunderland boss. ''He has seen it was the right thing to do and said it. No-one else has any bearing at all.
''He is a proper bloke. He has come up through the school of hard knocks. I don't give a monkey's about anyone else. It is the people here at Wolves I am worried about.
''In the three-and-a-half years I have been here, if I have upset one or two people I think they will forgive me for what I have done here. Everybody else, I don't give two hoots about that.''
There were some negative comments from the Wolves fans who stumped up £42 to watch the United defeat but McCarthy insists his decision was still the right one for his team's season overall.
''If I upset or offended the ones who went to the game then rest assured that was not intentional. It is in the best interests of us moving forward,'' he said. ''My job is to maximise the resources of this football club. That is what I am doing and I would do it again. It doesn't guarantee that we will beat Burnley, Liverpool or Manchester City in our next three games but it guarantees over the Christmas period we will all be better prepared for those games.
''If we are then that is for the good of the team and the club. I am paid to make decisions. I make them and stand by them. I take the heat.''
Ferguson said as many as five clubs could be in contention for the title right to the finish after United lost 1-0 to Aston Villa at Old Trafford on Saturday.
"With the form of Aston Villa now, you have to look over your shoulder and think, wait a minute," Ferguson said. "They have a lot of experience in the right quarters, their back four was terrific last week. Then Tottenham got a big win during the week so they are now challenging that top group.
"The history of the league does point, over the years, to it becoming a two-horse race but it does change. From an interest point of view, a spectator's point of view, you hope four or five teams will come through over the last month of the season. It would be fantastic and it is capable of being like that."