Ferdinand close to United return
RIO FERDINAND put himself in contention for a Premier League comeback against Everton on September 11 after ending his 89-day knee injury lay-off with a surprise outing for Manchester United's reserves last night.
England captain Ferdinand showed no ill-effects from his injury during a 45-minute Manchester Senior Cup exertion against Oldham Athletic's youthful second string at Stalybridge Celtic's Bower Fold ground.
And with the trip to Everton beginning a crucial week of fixtures for United, who face Rangers in the Champions League on September 14 before entertaining Liverpool at Old Trafford five days later, Ferdinand is now likely to challenge for a swift return to first-team action after proving his fitness.
The 31-year-old has been sidelined since suffering knee ligament damage while training with England in Rustenburg on June 4, a week before the start of the World Cup in South Africa earlier this summer.
An apparently innocuous challenge on Emile Heskey resulted in the £30m defender being ruled out of the tournament, but his return to fitness with United has taken longer than initially anticipated.
Early hopes that Ferdinand would be fit for the start of the season were quickly ruled out and manager Alex Ferguson revealed during United's summer tour of North America that a setback had left the former West Ham and Leeds centre-half facing a September comeback.
A further gloomy bulletin from Ferguson two weeks ago suggested that Ferdinand's return would be further delayed until the end this month, but the player stepped up training last week and he was able to participate with the first-team squad prior to the international break.
Ferdinand was by no means given an easy ride by the home side, with teenager Andrew Crompton clearly relishing the opportunity to test himself against his illustrious opponent.
And, while Crompton's pace and tenacity was not enough to worry Ferdinand, the United defender was given little room for complacency by the youngster.
With United midfielder Paul Scholes watching from the stands, Wes Brown and Anderson were also in action as they continued their own comebacks from injury lay-offs.
Anderson managed 60 minutes for the reserves against Manchester City last week in his first outing following a cruciate ligament injury while Brown, who was sidelined for two months with a broken foot sustained in March, once again appeared for the second string, despite proving his fitness on the club's pre-season tour.
Portuguese forward Bebe, whose absence from last week's reserve game prompted a staunch defence of the £7.4m signing by Ferguson, was not selected for this game after being called into the Portugal U-21 squad for Friday's clash against England in Barcelos.
Owen Hargreaves has been offered a career lifeline by Ferguson after being named in United's 25-man Premier League squad, despite the Old Trafford manager voicing concerns over the midfielder's fitness.
Hargreaves, 29, has yet to return to United's Carrington training ground after flying to the United States almost two months ago for specialist advice on the knee problems that have plagued his career since his last Premier League start against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in Sept 2008.
With all top-flight clubs obliged to submit their 25-man squads to the Premier League ahead of yesterday's 5pm deadline, Ferguson had said last weekend that he was still pondering "whether I can afford to allot one of the 25 places to Owen as he continues to battle for full fitness".
United confirmed last night, however, that all senior players, barring those currently on loan, had been registered, although it is understood that only 24 names have been submitted due to the club's abundance of players under the age of 21, who do not need to be registered.
Meanwhile, United chief executive David Gill has admitted that the club has fallen short of matching last season's figures for the sale of season tickets.
But, despite a proposed fans' boycott of season tickets as a protest against the club's owners, the Glazer family, Gill insists sales of 51,800 are a positive figure.
"Last year our target was 54,000 season tickets and we've sold 51,800 (this year), which is pretty good in the current climate," he said.
"We've sold more season tickets than the capacity of most Premier League grounds. Our executive seat sales are on track as compared with last year in a different market. The ticket sales have held up." (© Daily Telegraph, London)