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United takes blows en route to final

CRISTIANO Ronaldo's first domestic goal since November helped Manchester United book a place in the League Cup final with a 4-2 victory over Derby County on Tuesday.

But Alex Ferguson's joy at reaching a 14th domestic final was soured by more players joining the injury list.

Nani took 16 minutes to wipe out Derby's 1-0 first-leg advantage, and further goals from John O'Shea and Carlos Tevez looked to have put the match beyond reach of the League Championship struggling side. But Derby substitute Giles Barnes scored twice in the final 10 minutes around Ronaldo's penalty to threaten extra time as United's wounded struggled.

Nani hobbled off with an undisclosed injury, while Anderson, who had been limping badly, was carried off after the final and went to hospital for an X-ray on his ankle.

Injuries to defenders Jonny Evans (ankle) and Rafael da Silva (hamstring) and a knock to Gary Neville could severely hamper Ferguson's options at the back, with Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra and Wes Brown already sidelined.

Ferguson fears Rafael will be out for a "few weeks" with hamstring trouble, but Evans could return for next Tuesday's match at West Bromwich Albion after missing Saturday's FA Cup fourth-round clash with Tottenham.

"We have a few injuries tonight so it has been a bad night in that respect but we are in the final and we should be celebrating that," Ferguson said. "Finals are always hard to get in to and the young lads have done fantastically well to get thee. It was a great performance and the youngsters will all be playing in the final.

"The important thing is to find out what their temperament is and they have all proved that tonight."

Having already won the Club World Cup in December, the English Premier League leader remains the only club in contention for all three domestic trophies and the Champions League.

Despite trailing 0-1 from Pride Park two weeks ago, Ferguson still gave emerging talents such as striker Danny Welbeck, midfielder Darron Gibson and rightback Rafael valuable first-team experience. Veterans Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs were included to ensure there would be no repeat of the first-leg slipup.

Derby did provide a scare in the 7th after Gibson twice gave away the ball and Kris Commons came within the width of the post of replicating his stunning goal two weeks ago, unleashing a fierce 30-meter thunderbolt that beat Ben Foster.

Nani leveled the aggregate score in similar fashion. After drifting forward unchallenged from the halfway line, the Portugal winger curled in a dipping shot that former United goalkeeper Roy Carroll could get only the faintest of touches to. Neat linkup play between Tevez and Welbeck in the 22nd released O'Shea, who was given time to pause before poking the ball into the bottom right.

Slack defending cost Derby dearly in the 34th when Tevez headed Rafael's cross between two static defenders and beyond Carroll. Rafael hit the outside of the post before being forced off injured and replaced by midfielder Darren Fletcher.

Giggs, had a free-kick pumped wide by Carroll then picked up a knock and was replaced by Ronaldo. Evans was struggling but couldn't be brought off because United had used all three substitutes, and he conceded a penalty by fouling Paul Green. The substitute Barnes scored the spot kick to set up a tense final 10 minutes.


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