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Fergie in no mood to party

AFTER the emotion, the cold reality.

"I am glad it's all over," confessed Alex Ferguson after his 25th anniversary as Manchester United manager was marked with the renaming of a stand in his honour, the commissioning of a statue and, somewhere amid the dewy-eyed nostalgia, a 1-0 Premier League victory against Sunderland.

Day one of Ferguson's reign at Old Trafford, on November 6, 1986, was all about 'kicking on' and taking care of the business of putting Manchester United at the top of the pile and, 9,133 days later, the task is no different.

The only contrast is that while Ferguson and United looked 35 miles to the west for the focus of their challenge in 1986, the modern day rival is somewhat closer to home, in the form of Manchester City.

By humiliating United with a 6-1 victory at Old Trafford two weeks ago, City certainly did their best to rain on Ferguson's parade and, with the anniversary now passed, erasing the memory of that defeat and focusing on redemption is the priority.

Wes Brown's own goal in first-half stoppage time, which secured a narrow victory for his former club, was the most important statistic of the day for Ferguson and his players but, quietly, the lessons of the City defeat are being put into practice.

This victory saw United record their fourth successive clean sheet since City tore their backline to shreds a fortnight ago and, while their attacking play continues to lack the cavalier spirit of the early weeks of the campaign, a platform is being built.


"It was important we got the win (against Sunderland) because it was a special occasion for the manager, but sometimes these games can go wrong, especially after the last two weeks when there has been a lot of tension following the derby," said United captain Nemanja Vidic.

"After the City game, we realised we had to play as a team and we had to defend better. We have done that in the last four games.

"We take a lot of satisfaction from the fact we have won all four games but, if you look at the performances, we can definitely do better.

"You can't play great football, nice football, going forward all the time, because that allows teams to create chances. You have to find a balance.

"It is important to show solidity, to work hard as a team, and to keep clean sheets. This is the way that you win league titles and go a long way in the Champions League.

"But while we are trying to find that balance, the most important thing is to keep winning games."

United's rediscovered solidity and organisation owes much to the return of Vidic following a six-week calf injury absence.

His return has coincided with Ferguson warning Rio Ferdinand, 33 today, that his loss of pace has robbed him of his status as Vidic's first-choice defensive partner, but the former England captain impressed against Sunderland and Vidic insists he remains a key figure at Old Trafford.

Vidic said: "When you look at what is happening to Rio over the last few weeks, this is a player who played in most of the big games last season, helped us win the Premier League title and reach the Champions League final and yet, after one game, people are saying he is not good enough anymore.

"This is wrong and Rio showed that (against Sunderland).

"Sometimes, when you have been at the top a long time like Rio has, people judge you on your age. They are waiting for one bad game to say he is finished.

"What he did today is the perfect way to show he is not finished. He showed strength of character. He showed everyone that he still has the quality and ability to play at the top level."