| 11.8°C Dublin

Fergie: United we stand

Alex Ferguson is confident Manchester United's anti-Glazer faction will set aside their grievances to cheer his side to victory against AC Milan at Old Trafford tonight.

It has been a notable few days in the battle for United ownership, with Ferguson furiously denying he had expressed a willingness to join the Red Knights if they were to wrest control of the club out of the hands of the current American owners, who they feel have burdened Old Trafford with far too much debt.

The Manchester United Supporters Trust has recorded a huge rise in membership, beyond 120,000, with the green and gold scarves now such a notable feature of Red Devils' matches.

Ferguson knows they will be in evidence again this evening, as United bid to defend a 3-2 first-leg lead and reach the quarter-finals for the fourth season on the trot.

However, the Scot believes suggestions for fans to delay entry into the stadium for 10 minutes as a sign of protest will have little effect, and he feels there will be a strong sense of unity as United aim to overcome the seven-time winners.

"The fans won't do that," said Ferguson of the rumoured protests. "It is too important a game.

"Old Trafford will be rocking and I am sure, whether they are wearing the traditional red and white or the protest green and gold scarves, the supporters will be united and speaking with one voice to get us safely through."


Ferguson was also eager to play down the return to Old Trafford of David Beckham, who he expects to be consigned to the AC Milan bench.

Beckham flew into Manchester yesterday to the usual overwhelming greeting, covered live on TV no less, with fans eager to get autographs and photographs of England's footballing icon.

But in trying to ignore what he feels is the circus that surrounds Beckham, Ferguson's analysis of the Milan side aiming to become the first to beat United in a two-legged tie having lost the opening game on home soil does not include the former England skipper.

"I am finding it difficult to pick their team but I don't know whether Beckham will start," said Ferguson.

"I have not got that down in my conclusions about their team.

"He has not started a game since the first leg, so it is difficult to say what impact he will have on the game.

"But he will be there and the one thing you have to be aware of is his delivery of the ball, which is fantastic.

"That is the threat. There are a lot of threats in their team of course, but we are well aware of David's."

Although he has made one, non-playing, visit for a charity match since his high-profile exit, Beckham's last appearance at Old Trafford for a game involving United was a goalscoring contribution to a home win over Charlton in May 2003.

On this season's evidence, Ferguson has a more obvious threat to deal with given Brazilian sensation Pato is likely to be fit after a hamstring strain.

Top scorer for Milan this term with 14, Pato's ability to float around fellow countryman Ronaldinho, who nearly ended up replacing Beckham seven years ago, would appear the only way the seven-time winners are going to score the goals required to overhaul United's 3-2 advantage.

However, United have a major weapon of their own to call upon now that Wayne Rooney has made a rapid recovery from the knee injury he aggravated on international duty last week and which kept him out of Saturday's win at Wolves.

"It was a worry with Rooney," said Ferguson of his 28-goal front-man.

"Looking at him last Friday I didn't think he had any chance.

"But he has progressed and he plays and we are pleased at that."


Rooney's presence could be bad news for Dimitar Berbatov, who was outstanding in the role as lone frontman at Wolves, as Ferguson has tended to play one up front in recent European games, a tactic that has successfully steered United to successive Champions League finals.

Antonio Valencia and Nani could occupy the wider roles and, with Michael Carrick suspended and Ryan Giggs only just back in training after breaking his arm at Aston Villa last month, Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher and Park Ji-sung are the men Ferguson might use in a three-man central midfield.

Ferguson, who also revealed that defender Wes Brown would be out of action for between four and six weeks with a broken bone in his foot, remains wary of Milan.

However, he regards the victory at the San Siro -- United's first in five attempts against the Rossoneri in Italy -- as particularly significant.

"Without doubt it was a landmark victory for us," he said.

"Historically you are playing one of the best teams of all time in Europe.

"You couldn't come away without thinking the psychological boost of going there and winning was a really important."


LIVE RTé2/UTV (7.45)