Man. United's Fergie shrugs off Rooney goal drought
by Ian Whittell
MANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP) - Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson insists he's unconcerned about Wayne Rooney's goal drought, believing the England striker is close to once again becoming the country's deadliest striker.Â Rooney has not scored for United in open play since netting against Bayern Munich in March, but Ferguson was delighted with the England forward's overall contribution in Sunday's 2-0 win over Sunderland at Old Trafford.
"Wayne had a couple of tries. He was very unlucky with the chip and there were a couple of shots saved by the goalkeeper," Ferguson said.Â "He is getting there. The important thing is he is playing well. That is refreshing."
Meanwhile, Ferguson hopes to welcome back Darren Fletcher and Nani at Birmingham on Tuesday after his team maintained pole position in the Premier League with Sunday's three points.Â Ferguson was without the pair for the win at Old Trafford that was cemented by two goals from Bulgaria forward Dimitar Berbatov, who now has 13 for the season, and a man of the match performance from Brazilian playmaker Anderson.Â The Scot, who turns 69 on Friday, was able to take off Anderson and evergreen winger Ryan Giggs early in the second half and, while Ferguson declared himself happy with an unbeaten league run that now extends to 22 games, the return of Fletcher and Nani can only help United consolidate first place when they travel to St Andrew's.
"You have to make changes," said Ferguson, noting that Birmingham will have benefited from the postponement of their Boxing Day visit to Everton.
"I took Anderson off, took Ryan off. We've got a game in two days' time. Birmingham have not played, they will be nice and fresh.
"Darren Fletcher had a bit of a cold, he came down with it this morning, we couldn't take any chances. Nani has been feeling his hip the last few days so we left him out. He should be ready for the Birmingham game.
"Birmingham will be fresh. Going down there is always a difficult place, they've always had a strong home record, they're difficult to beat on their own ground."
Ever the perfectionist, Ferguson did confess that his team's failure to convert a host of chances they created against Sunderland was a disappointment.Â "Absolutely," said Ferguson. "We hit the bar, the post, the goalkeeper made a couple of saves, we had some really good football, some exciting stuff.Â "Once the game went into that part - Dimitar had a couple saved - we just seemed to go into third gear.
"The first half was the game, we were fantastic, it could have been any score.Â "The second half we put the tools away and bit, maybe they were saving their legs. They knew Birmingham's game was off and maybe that gets to their minds. We were very economical second half, put it that way.
"But we're coming to good form. The last few weeks we have played some very good stuff and had that consistency, particularly defending. We were solid at the back, these are good signs for us."
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce sounded like one rival manager who is ready to concede the title to United.Â "They've been involved in first or second for the last six years and I can't see any change in that," he said. "They will be there orÂ thereabouts. And usually they get better from here on in.Â "That first half is arguably the best they have played. I hear they haven't played that well and they're unbeaten in - what? - six months; that's not a bad stat.
"They're top of the league with a game in hand. History tells you that they get better in the second half of the season. They've got some big games coming up but I wouldn't bet against them."