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Ferguson's gamble backfires in FA Cup

FIELDING a weakened lineup in an FA Cup semifinal proved a gamble too far on Sunday for Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson.

With three Premier League and Champions League matches coming up in swift succession, Ferguson's decision to rest top players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney ended with a 2-4 defeat by Everton on penalties after a 0-0 draw at Wembley.

Ferguson said his decision to field four players who had not even started a Premier League match this season - strikers Danny Welbeck and Federico Macheda, midfielder Darron Gibson and left back Fabio da Silva - was prompted by seeing the pitch cut up badly during Chelsea's 2-1 win over Arsenal in Saturday's semifinal.

"Yesterday it looked spongy and dead and difficult to move the ball about on it," Ferguson said. "What I didn't want was to go into extra time with my strongest squad. So we had to go with the bold decision of playing the younger ones.

"This club is built on giving the young players opportunities and they didn't disappoint."

Defender Rio Ferdinand, one of the few United stars to start, backed Ferguson's decision, saying: "It's not like we're just fighting on one front - we've got different things to go for. You can't use the same players every week. We've got a big squad and we've got to use it."

Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard said United's team selection looked a shrewd move.

"I think Alex Ferguson was clever," said the American. "We were the underdogs, but all of a sudden at the stroke of a pen we become the favorites, which put more pressure on us."

World class players, though, like United's record signing Dimitar Berbatov struck a tame first spot kick that was blocked by Howard's legs.

"I was looking for the goalkeeper, but at the last minute he took the place I was going for," Berbatov said.

The Bulgaria striker only came on in extra time after Ferguson opted to start the 17-year-old Macheda, who had previously made just two substitutes appearances.

It could have been a different situation had referee Mike Riley awarded a penalty when Welbeck appeared to be pushed to the ground by Everton's Phil Jagielka. Ferguson was out of his seat waving furiously when his team was not awarded the penalty.

"We don't get many penalties these days," Ferdinand said. "Referees are reluctant to give them to us. Maybe they are being put under pressure by people in the media but that is the way it goes."

In Sunday's Premier League games, Darren Bent's goal gave Tottenham a 1-0 victory over Newcastle to push the Magpies closer to relegation and Robinho scored his first in 12 games in Manchester City's 4-2 triumph over last-place West Bromwich Albion.


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